Working on this project asks us to put our awareness of creating the environment into perspective. Low-tech organic building materials are giving rise to new possibilities for ecological local architecture, but presents both challenges and opportunities for new means of design and planning in the form of a peculiar rural high-tech project.
Frei Otto was one of the greatest innovators in terms of using materials for their intrinsic properties, re-configuring them for large and light structures with a minimal footprint through a synthesis of form and function. Following these pioneering paradigms of shaped-material intelligence, the digital revolution provided methods of high-end form-finding to the design mainstream. The analogue became digital - and wants to become analogue again, by way of a physical manifestation of the simulated, of course, but first of all a collaboration of crafts - in the sense that high-precision computational design needs to display a certain degree of sensitivity to analogue conditions and processes. As the workflow within digital interfaces requires preparation of the artefact, it also needs preparation that fits the workflow of crafts. Bridging the gap between the ideal and the real, the translations to building culture, and the reintroduction of locality, now poses challenges to a synthesis of different technologic levels in design and fabrication phases: the designer-builder shifts from architectural to structural to constructive to socially competent, with the said intersections requiring negotiation and integration. The meaningful interplay between human and machine designer must be determined.
Bamboo and its high flexure actively define the form of the shell, and thereby set up new drivers of design. The idealized digital model in this project aims to help the designer to find a high-performing shape and patterning, firstly lacking many of the constraints of the real world. The bending of the bamboo rods happens in a distinct manner, close to the elastica curve, not just fitting itself to a designed shape. Fabrication needs the rods to be bent in one direction only, the rods come tapered and in different diameters. The erection process is limited to what can be done by a few women and men as only limited professional service is available. Extraordinary loads introduce disturbances to the mechanism; imperfection and fabrication tolerance alter the entire system such that the critical spot eventually wanders haphazardly. One after the other, these conditions have to be considered in order to maintain the central role of the model in predicting possible forms. Digital tools and contemporary methods in non-linear simulation, evolutionary form-finding, and multi-objective optimization allow an integrated approach towards negotiating architectural, structural, and economic targets that are in conflict with each other. They produce options, in a setting of manifold goals and constraints, to explore possible configurations and guide the human user towards an informed design. Still, modern tooling only serves as an aid to identifying ideals, where coherence with building conditions always remains a matter of skilled modelmaking and human design decisions. High-end tools like karamba and octopus can be used to include the entirety of a project’s aims, but the prototypic character of architectural projects still reclaims resolution and requires abstraction.
The challenge of augmenting human skills with digital ones involves the interface that is necessary to ask the right questions regarding usability and applicability. In contrast, the use of high-tech methods in a low-tech setting can be seen as an ultimate test of relevance. The term ‘new hybrid’ for this project can no longer only be understood in terms of the physical manifestation of an artefact, but now also in terms of the way it is designed, planned, built, and reused to ultimately push the holistic quality of the built environment.
A multi-goal environment generates a variety of patterning proposals; each solution has different qualities, the final decision is left to the designer.
Robert Vierlinger is an interdisciplinary consultant and researcher. At the University of Applied Arts Vienna he co-initiated architectural-technological research projects while investigating digital design representation for his PhD. He acts as a consultant for Bollinger+Grohmann engineers.
Klaus Bollinger is head of the Institute of Architecture at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. His interests lie in technologic developments that lead to an advancement of designing strategies and formal vocabulary. He is the founder of Bollinger+Grohmann.