Syracuse-based APTUM Architecture has designed and fabricated Thinness, an ultra-light concrete pavilion in collaboration with international concrete manufacturer Cemex Global R&D. Concrete is one of the most ubiquitous construction materials in the world. Its advantages are many: it's easy to produce, is remarkably strong, and can take on a variety of forms. It does, however, have one rather weighty constraint: it's heavy. Thinness is an experiment in using contemporary and historical casting methods to create novel forms that stretch concrete to its thinnest and lightest proportions while maintaining structural integrity. The installation uses its shape and a proprietary concrete mix that includes glass beads for aggregate and steel fibers to create a freestanding structure with walls that are only three-quarters-of-an-inch thick. The perforated pavilion, a collection of 12 exterior columns arranged around four central light wells, was designed to be modular and scalable. The columns taper at the base and expand as they rise, vaulting to form a ring of arches. Although the installation is ten feet tall and ten feet long on each side, each column weighs only 200 pounds. Architects Julie Larsen, Assoc. AIA, and Roger Hubeli, founding partners of APTUM and professors at Syracuse University, sought to explore “thinness” and the role of volume in architecture. In collaboration with the research and development department at Cemex, based near Monterrey, Mexico, the team was able to develop a fiber-reinforced concrete mixture that would evenly distribute around the form’s sharp corners without clumping and weakening the structure. Grasshopper was used to map the stress across each column, and the perforations were made smaller or eliminated in the most heavily stressed areas to help distribute the load more evenly. The team ran through different pattern iterations looking for the correct balance between load-bearing ability, aesthetics, and amount of void before settling on the final grid. The columns were cast using the lost-wax technique. First, a silicon mold was cut using a water jet, and then braced in a steel enclosure to protect against bowing as the concrete cured. Wax was then poured into the mold to form a freestanding column; the silicon formwork was then removed, and concrete was poured over the wax. Once the concrete was fully cured, the wax was melted and the process was repeated for the remaining components. Thinness is just the first step in what Aptum sees as a collaborative, interdisciplinary future between academia and concrete manufacturers. In the future, APTUM wants to scale up the technology behind Thinness to encompass structural elements and has released a rendering of a speculative skyscraper made from the same components. Thinness was recognized with a citation in the AIA’s 12th Annual R+D Awards this year. The project was also on display at the Designing Material Innovation exhibition presented by the California College of the Arts earlier this year. Design Firm: Aptum Architecture, Syracuse, N.Y., Roger Hubeli, Julie Larsen, Assoc. AIA (project team) Industry Partner: Cemex Global R&D, Davide Zampini, Alexandre Guerini, Jeremy Esser, Matthew Meyers (project team) Fabricator: Cemex Global R&D Structural Engineer: Sinéad Mac Namar Research Assistants: Sean Morgan, Ethan Schafer
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The Designing Material Innovation exhibition—co-presented by the California College of the Arts (CCA) and the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the CCA campus in San Francisco—aims to utilize contemporary architectural research in an effort to envision potential futures for the school’s backlot. The exhibition consists of five experimental architectural pavilions built to test new conceptual approaches in the realms of materiality, fabrication, and design. The pavilions, crafted with industry and academic partners, also attempt to articulate new ways of working outdoors in an effort to help guide designs for a forthcoming campus expansion by Studio Gang. Designs for the expansion are still in the works, but the scheme is expected to rely on a network of socially-driven outdoor workspaces and venues—Designing Material Innovation will act as a pop-up of sorts, testing the limits of what is possible outdoors at the CCA. The exhibition was curated by Jonathan Massey—the current dean at Taubman College and recent dean of architecture at CCA—who brought together APTUM Architecture, MATSYS, the CCA Digital Craft Lab, T+E+A+M, and Matter Design for the show. Exhibition design for the showcase came from Oakland, California–based Endemic Architecture, who created a “confetti urbanism” installation for the site that whimsically reworks existing furnishings into a playscape that hosts the experimental pavilions, as well as give students a place to fabricate their projects. “Designing Material Innovation shows how designers and industry leaders partner to achieve great things, whether that is making concrete structures light and delicate, promoting ecological diversity, or repurposing waste,” Massey said. APTUM Architecture collaborated with Mexican building materials company CEMEX to devise new methods of testing fiber-reinforced methods to pursue extremely thin concrete shell structures. The ten-foot-by-ten-foot pavilion is made of interlocking concrete arches that are only one-third of an inch thick. A second vaulted pavilion was made by Oakland-based MATSYS with help from the CCA Digital Craft Lab. The complexly curved shell structure was robotically milled from foam waste and is coated in synthetic resin. The Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab by the CCA Digital Craft Lab and Kreysler & Associates comprises a “floating composite shell structure” according to the exhibition website, and was fabricated using fiber-reinforced polymers. T+E+A+M and University of Michigan came together to generate a “new architectural order” made from “plasticglomerate,” an amalgamation of rocks and plastic waste cast into a grouped cluster of columns. The final team—Matter Design and Massachusetts Institute of Technology—fabricated a 16-foot-tall, 2,000-pound glass fiber reinforced concrete sculpture that pivots and moves freely despite its hefty appearance. Taken together, the installations offer not just a glimpse into the future of material experimentation, but pique interest in Studio Gang’s forthcoming additions, as well.
2017 Best of Design Awards for Landscape – Public: Confetti Urbanism Architect: Endemic (Clark Thenhaus) Location: San Francisco, California Confetti Urbanism reimagines the California College of the Arts Back Lot as a display venue, work yard, and social space. The 73,470-square-foot Back Lot presents prototypes of the Designing Material Innovation exhibition while supporting student design activities and equipment—from a welding station to hammocks. Confetti Urbanism celebrates the diversity of the Back Lot’s many components by organizing them as though they were tossed confetti, creating a loose yet carefully studied frame for the prototypes on display and animating the site through function and festivity. “The spontaneity and framework of this project is incredibly engaging and refreshing. A parking lot is transformed through simple strategic interventions and a democratic vision into a dynamic open-air laboratory for material innovation and creation. They’ve shown a parking lot can become a platform for interaction and creation.” —Emily Bauer, landscape architect, Bjarke Ingels Group (juror) Curator: Jonathan Massey Pavilions By: APTUM Architecture T+E+A+M CCA Digital Craft Lab Matter Design Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab Honorable Mention Project: Farnham-Connolly State Park Pavilion Architect: Touloukian Touloukian (Pavilion Architect) with Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge (Landscape Architect) Location: Canton, Massachusetts Farnham-Connolly State Park Pavilion began as an environmental cleanup of an abandoned municipal airport. Surrounding wetlands were remediated, and PCB-impacted soils were collected under a permeable geo-textile cap for the location of a new park and comfort-station pavilions. Both pavilions meet the social and physical needs of visitors, while paying homage to the area’s history of flight. Honorable Mention Project: The Meriden Green Architect: Milone & MacBroom Place: Meriden, Connecticut Meriden Green began as a flood-control project 20 years ago and became the catalyst for economic revitalization by transforming a brownfield into a greenfield. The firm executed a Connecticut city’s vision of large expanses of lawn for events and play; pedestrian routes; a bridge linking neighborhoods; and new development opportunities.
The 18 winning projects shortlisted in the Field Constructs Design Competition flag a range of pressing socio-environmental issues through whimsical takes on interactive public art. The exhibits will occupy an old landfill and brownfield in Austin within the Circle Acres nature reserve, turning the site into a bizarre outdoor museum teeming with site-responsive sculptures and unforeseen creatures. Here, we take a look at some of the winning proposals to be displayed from November 14–22. Cloudfill by Blake Smith, John Cunningham, Seth Brunner (New York) This three-part installation is made of plastic bottles stuffed in bags. Each piece is specifically designed for either forestland, wetlands, or dry land, and references a different environmental issue, from deforestation to strip mining and microplastics in the ocean, to advance the educational mission of the Ecology Action of Texas. A floating bridge is planned for the park’s wetland area, which used to be a quarry.