Monday, March 29, 2010

Enchanted concrete trees

This is a second post inspired by the portfolio of Ryan B Coover's Workpod9 studio
[Image of Coover's portable tripod formwork, Photo by Ryan B. Coover]

Concrete Flesh
At the Concrete Flesh workshop in Gothenburg in November, my team build a similar structure to hold our column formwork. We did have a similar blow out and a lazy dysfunctional column as a result.
Our aim was to explore was how little material it would take to exploid the fluid origins of wet concrete
The formwork consisted of spandex and a glassfibre mesh of the sort you put on walls - not much tensile strength to put it mildly. We both tore the mesh for the spandex to bulge out - and added coned clamps to perforate the column.
[Image: the fabric formed concrete piece was securely hung in a crane before we dared deforming it.
Photo by Frederik Petersen]

The tripod was built to support the weight of the heavily perforated cast. This did work somewhat except for the fact that the formwork expanded and got longer and longer during the pour...
The constraining liner didn't do its job and the clamps were so big that they didn't allow much concrete to pass through and thus ended up acting as hinges

Concrete skin and bones
Reservations could go to the actual structural behavior of the column - in fact column wouldn't really be the term to use because the concrete structure is hardly able to carry it's own weight. The piece explored the workshop themes regarding concrete flesh and concrete skin - completely leaving the analogy to the structural bones out of the picture.
 [The stripped concrete piece. It looks like a sick or enchanted, old tree - quite organic indeed.
Photo by Frederik Petersen]

Sensual and bizarre - cast in flexible formwork

I just came across the website of architect Ryan B. Coover. He has some beautiful pictures of his experiments with fabric formwork which reminds me of work I wish to share.

 [Image: Constraining system with strings and tubes (top); membrane and holes for columns (middle); Cast surface and columns seen from below (bottom), Photos by Ryan B. Coover]

Coover's images show a system to cast a voluptuous ceiling and fabric formed columns in the same pour.
It looks like images of plaster models made at CAST  maybe from Coover's time doing research or studies there.

Hands on at CAST
The approach to research at CAST is 100 % hands on in producing plaster models at a scale 1:4 and then do full scale in concrete.
 [The workshop at CAST with hundreds of plaster models everywhere. Photo by CAST]

If it works in plaster
Where others would say: don't try it in concrete if it doesn't work in a scale model in plaster - West has the approach which states: if it works in plaster it will not fail when cast at full scale.
So with this preaching in mind the principles shown in Coover's images should easily transfer to concrete. In fact the images above resembles facades by spanish architect Miguel Fisac.
The work of Miguel Fisac is well-known at CAST

The principle shown in the first image is a horizontal panel cast into a frame with a suspended membrane.
The flexible membrane will 'accept' imprints by objects placed below such as tubes, strings or dowels

[Image:concrete facade cast in flexible formwork of Centro social de las Hermanas Hospitalarias, Architect Miguel Fisac, Photo by Javier Azurmendi]

P-Wall and self-organization
Another architect who's been inspired by Fisac is San Fransisco based Andrew Kudless.
Kudless has explored the inter related consequences of two flexible materials: a plaster composite and a flexible membrane. He calls it self-organization of material under force

Self-organization is a theme in Kudless' work in general at his studio Material Systems or Matsys: "Matsys is a design studio that explores the emergent relationships between architecture, engineering, biology, and computation" from Matsys.

Wall at MoMA in San Fransisco
His latest piece shown below (2009) is part of a series of socalled P-walls (P for plaster?) starting in 2006 I believe. P-wall was commisioned by the Museum of Modern Art, SF and is exhibited permanently at MoMA in San Fransisco

[Image: P-Wall at SFMoMA by Andrew Kudless(2009), Photo from Kudless website]
[Image: P-Wall by Andrew Kudless consists of 150 plaster panels cast in nylon fabric over wooden dowls, Photo from]

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cement-Audio series

While procrastinating other matters I bumped into this alternative use for concrete by Dutch designer Guus Oosterbaan who acutually lives in my backyard (small town Valby neighbors Copenhagen).

 [Image: Rock radio by Guus Oosterbaan, Photo by the designer ]

I did know that loud speaker afficionados use concrete as a very solid and heavy foundation in order to - well - get greater sound - I think I get it - but still didn't quite understand all of the Wiki article on loud speaker enclosures... ZZZZ.- or bother, I guess.

Ugly stereo or really bored?
Oosterbaan has explored concrete in his fun 'audio-cement-series' for one or more of the following reasons: Because he was bored (the post is tagged with "things you can do when you are really bored"); because he loves concrete; or because his radio was really ugly?

At first Oosterbaan cast the radio into a box like structure:
"a thick layer of cement shields the radio from actually receiving radio waves. With my "Now it doesn't work anyway" philosophy, I took a big hammer and created this Flintstones look, and the radio works!" from Oosterbaan's blog.

[Image: The back of Rock radio/ by Guus Oosterbaan, Photo by the designer ]

Brick game
Another 'cement-audio' project is Oosterbaan's concrete Pong console or Brick Game as he calls it. The project has a DIY post here.

[Image of Pong console embedded in concrete. Photo by Guus Oosterbaan]

Cement-Audio without cement
While browsing Guus' blog for the last (?) of the experiments in his cement-audio series - I only found  the Brick game mentioned above - I did find an audio-audio project and realized that 
he and I have more in common than just the fascination for concrete - we have the same small stereo which still sticks out of the book case because it's actually really long

The designer fixed this nuisance by building an extra frame to attach to the book case - Warning - below is not cast in concrete :-)
[Image: Oosterbaan customized his book case for his (and my) small yet deep stereo. Photo by Guus Oosterbaan]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Composite columns or bastard formwork

While teaching last week’s crazy student workshop I had the chance to test a principle as part of a series of investigations on what I call composite - or bastard formwork... The idea is that combining fabric with materials of other properties offers perspectives regarding concrete form, surface and production.

The fabric is used as the constraining system and the piece I made is a 2m high set of columns
An aim of the experiment was to use a minimum of materials which doesn't explicity add formal or surface qualities to the concrete structure.

[Yours truly, Anne-Mette Manelius proudly posing with the bastard formwork after the pour. Photo: Mette Madsen/Pihl]

[Yours truly working at stripping the formwork - everything didn't go all easy-peasy. Photo: Signe Ulfeldt]

 [My lovely assistant, Signe and I with the piece - a very little fellow next to the student works - but he's mine]

One of my favorites among the student works is this lovely piece - the students call it Wall de Mort - haha.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wall de Mort - or the amazing concrete quilt

 [Image: Concrete surface cast in fabric formwork braced in a cheap garden fence. Student work. Photo: A-M Manelius]

A wonderful concrete piece was stripped just before I went home after yet an intense workshop pour day described in the previous post. The students called it Wall de Mort in their report - I wonder if they had a tough time?

The plastic, shiny surface really cheats the eye - both on camera and on site the concrete surface really doesn't look like concrete but as if the fabric is still there.
Here are a few shots from the piece cast in fabric and braced by a cheap garden fence. The formwork system is so simple that it deserves publishing -
[Detail of formwork before the pour]

[Image of students during the pour - Rasmus uses a shovel to compact the concrete from the outside. Photos from the workshop]

 [Image: The fabric formwork bulging after the pour. Photo: Tenna Beck]

It's truly fantastic that such little use of material can produce a structure like this!!
To keep the form from bulging out the constraining fence on each side of the form was tied together with metal wire in a system of carefully placed ties. A simple variation created a really cool pattern on the surface of the concrete.
 [Image: The fabric formwork and bracing fence. The pattern comes from excess water/cement paste gone through the woven fabric during the pour]

[Students working on the stripped fabric formed concrete. Photo: A-M Manelius]

[Image of fabric formed concrete slab. Rasmus removing metal wire which held the form together. Imprints from garden fence. Photo: A-M Manelius]
[Little streams of cement paste found their way through the fabric landscape sandwiched between two pieces of plywood at the bottom of the formwork]

After the pour(s)

Phew - running big a workshop is a lot of work and a lot of fun!! It's almost the end of a crazy couple of weeks teaching 2nd semester architecture students at the workshop I introduced here.
The ambitions were big - formwork was to be designed and build for a concrete slab cast vertically and 2 meters in height
 [Image from pour day one. 10 pieces ready to stand the test. Photo from student report]

[Image of fabric formwotk produced by students for a 2 meter high, S-shaped wall. Photo: A-M Manelius]

Two full days and four afternoons
Everyone really got into the task. The time limit was four afternoons and two full days at a workshop where the students produced the formwork. The spatial limit was that the formwork when transported could fit within the plan of one EU-pallet of 80x120 cm. This way the formwork could be moved easily.

On Monday we transported the formwork to the quay behind the Royal DK Art Academy, School of Architecture - Tuesday was pour day

[Image of fabric formed concrete wall. Traces of the EPS blockouts are visible. Photo: A-M Manelius]

Learning by blow outs
The pour was long - 3 hours - due to the fact that more than half of 10 forms actually blew... Quite spectacular, indeed!! All of the blowouts were in the bottom corner connections of the forms where the pressure was the highest. Being only 2nd semester, the students have limited structural knowledge - and with limited time at our hands, the teaching staff had very little time for each group to actually get around all the critical points- Concrete was ruthless!

4.5 cubic meters of concrete
At the end - most groups were ready to fill the forms again after fixing the weak points - at this point, however, we were out of concrete - a few of the forms 'ate it all up'. Today we got the chance to pour the rest - so on top of the 3 cubic meters delivered on Tuesday [3000 liters or 7,5 tons of concrete] another 1.5 arrived today.

The night before Xmas
We managed to fill all but one form today (the last one died again half way up) - and again use all the concrete - there was just enough.
A few groups could strip their forms filled on Tuesday - the rest will be revealed tomorrow - it's just like Xmas!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Printing in stead of pouring

A few years back I attended a conference on advanced architectural structures and flexibel moulds at TU Eindhoven. A lot of interesting research projects and build structures were presented which were all well structured and academically well known- and then there was Enrico Dini - an Italian entrepreneur, designer and inventor who showed us, very passionately the long road to develop a 3d printer for printing buildings - rapid prototyping becomes rapid building. 
The perspectives for 3d printing structures are obvious when when compared to the procedure of constructing formwork, pouring the concrete followed by throwing the formwork away...

 [Image of a structure printed in sand and an inorganic binder - the material doesn't use cement and resembles sandstone]

" D_shape technology makes it possible to 3D print 6 by 6 by 1m parts. These parts could either be shipped to the construction site or the entire building could be 3D printed on location. The parts made by D_shape resemble 'sandstone.' They are comparable in strength to reinforced concrete and the ingredients are the binding material and any type of sand. D_Shape's materials cost more than regular concrete but much less manpower is needed for construction. No scaffolding needs to be constructed so overall building cost should be lower than traditional building methods.

The system works with a rigging that is suspended over the buildable part (you can see it at the top of the first image[below. A-M]). The system deposits the sand and then the inorganic binding ink. No water is necessary. Because the two components meet outside the nozzle, the machine does not clog up and can keep up its accuracy of 25 DPI. Enrico and D_Shape are currently talking to lots of construction & engineering companies and architects about their technology." from Shapeways.

[Image of the 3d printing machine developed by Enrico Dini, photo from Blueprint Mag.]

The images shown above Dini also presented at his presentation - they are photos of a structure to sit in a roundabout in Pisa. The technique alone will be really interesting to follow. Large is great of course - but I do see a more quickly applied use in fx intricate filligree structured screens for wonderfully transparent facades.

[Enrico Dini and architect Andrea Morgante's sculpture: Radiolaria ]

A similar technology is Contour Crafting - here the technique is printing concrete another composite material which, however needs cement. The web site hasn't changed since I don't know when - so I have no idea of where this project is going except for what's expressed here - of course it has to do with funding.

 [Image of the principle in Contour Crafting]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Article about Fabric formwork in Concrete Decor

I haven't really written much about fabric formwork in general... fortunately the North American forum Concrete Decor has decided to publish an article introducing the technology to its readers. I've supplied info and an image to the piece but I'm actually still not really sure who or what is behind Concrete Decor - but once on the site you can search for suppliers and techniques - so I guess it's like the Yellow Pages for business within decorative concrete. Read the article here.

The article features most of the researchers and builders I know of who have done research and built using fabric forming tecniques - it even introduces my 'ambiguous chairs'. Among the featured researchers is CAST, my first and largest source of inspiration in this field. Center of Architectural Structures and Technology which the abbreviation stands for has an extensively informed website here. 
[Image: Concrete columns cast in fabric formwork, Photo by CAST]

 [Image: Detail of a fabric formed wall designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Unno who has deviced building methods called "Unno Reinforced Concrete." Photo by Mark West]
Fabric formed concrete sinks
I am not very familiar with fabric formwork used for design objects. The application of flexible moulds for slender but small scale structures seems to hold many perspectives. An interesting example is Gore Design Co based in Arizona, USA, which has developed techniques for forming GFRC sinks that seem really cool.
[Image: sink cast in fabric formed moulds, photo from GoreDesign Co]

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ambiguous chairs - a surprice encounter with concrete

In order to generate discussion of the architectural perspectives of a new building method it seems crucial, constantly to expound on aesthetical as well as technological and structural aspects which are balanced in an integrated architectural practice.

Facing concrete's image -  If nobody likes the idea, never mind how clever the technology.
Besides these issues, the social notion of concrete can be seen as a barrier for initiating a discussion of the implementation of a new concrete technology: Concrete is the most used building material in the world - yet still the cultural image of concrete is really challenged in this part of the world and concrete surfaces are thus seldomly left exposed.
[Anne-Mette in the fabric formed concrete chair /photo by Johannes Rauff Greisen]

The following is a summary of my paper I presented at the Structural Membranes conference in Stuttgart last October – the session on flexible moulds was small but fun amongst a lot of more heavy engineering papers. My part presented a sort of a social experiment done as part of my thesis work on fabric formwork for concrete.

[Detail of fabric with large washers and bolts]
Below is a detail of the concrete surface cast in the fabric above.
 [Detail of concrete surface cast in fabric]

A surprise encounter with concrete
So – since fabric formwork already has ambiguity within the term I decided to create a piece of furniture with the same ambiguity. The specific experiment is the design and production of two fabric formed chairs. The exploration includes presenting to the observer physical objects of a familiar function and scale, but containing ambiguities of the materiality, construction and affordance.

Optical appearance vs haptic perception
The mentioned ambiguities concern optical appearance vs. the haptic perception and information which comes when touching the object and from the act of sitting down. Using fabrics for furniture and thus getting some associations right that come with the function of a chair: Fabric, patterned surface structure and a bulging surface are all associated with the notion of an upholstered chair such as the Chesterfield.

Upholstery fabrics for casting furniture
It seemed a natural choice to use upholstery fabrics for casting a chair in fabric formed concrete. Architecture students at University of Edinburgh have studied the aesthetic surfaces of concrete cast in a number of conventional fabrics bought at the local fabrics store, including both very thin and cheap materials and more sturdy fabrics for upholstery. It was the intention of using upholstery fabric that the pattern from the fabric would transfer to the concrete surface making the appearance of the chair even more ambiguous to the observer.
[Detail of concrete surface cast in fabric]

An observer remarked: “I looked at the chair and in my head I knew it was concrete and couldn’t understand that it wasn’t fabric. Then when I sat on it, in my head I knew it would be hard but I was still surprised to find that the chair wasn’t as soft as it looked.”

Since this conference I attended another one, in Aachen, entitled Constucting Knowledge. I presented a poster in which I further elaborated on the work with this chair and propose it as a physical summary of my literature studies.

Constraint and connexion - fabric formwork workshop

These days I’m preparing a workshop for 80 students of architecture to produce fabric formwork and cast vertical wall elements on campus at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture.

The workshop is a hands-on break during a 4 week intense course on building technology at 2nd semester.
 [Images: students at the fabric formwork workshop at last year's course]

Parallel workshops focus on other major building materials of architectural tectonics: Brick, wood and metal.
Fellow teachers are Finn Bach, who’s an experienced structural engineer and Associate Professor at the Royal Academy and Johannes Rauff Greisen who’s doing an industrial PhD about automatic production of formwork for concrete.

[Images: workshop 2009 / the 'Seal' composite fabric/rigid formwork]

The workshop is a forum in which the students question material relations and their consequences for concrete form and surfaces.

[Images: workshop 2009 / fabric formed concrete]

Constraint and connection
The assignment has an overall theme of constraint and connection. The materials used are flexible fabrics, rigid or not so rigid boards and blanks - and then pouring heavy concrete, of course. Constraints can be understood literally as the means to hold the formwork together and how formwork clamps or constraining frames influence the outcome of the pour. Connection can be understood as the physical connection with a neighbouring element but of course also architecturally.

Vertical elements
We’ll have 10-12 groups and they will each produce a vertical element of 2 metres and 1,2 with which has to meet the another group’s element on one or both ends. This should encourage the students to consider how to work freely between connection points and interfaces between building components.
We will both have architecture students and architectural engineering students from DTU, Danish Technical University.
[Image: concrete surface cast in fabric formwork by students at last years workshop]

Light frefab formwork in stead of heavy prefab concrete
Formwork will be produced at DTU and then transported to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture where a big concrete truck will deliver concrete and cast all the vertical slabs on site… very exiting indeed. There’s a point to be made about prefabrication here –The most widely used building elements in Denmark are prefabricated concrete elements. They are heavy and ‘dumb’ – light weight formwork can be prepared in a workshop and easily moved to the site.

The images here are from the workshop last year and here's a link to an article about the workshop.

Feel free to join us during the pour Tuesday March 16th 2010 - and click the TEK1 tag below to read more about the outcome.