STUDIO: top fuel pneumatics workshop
SUPPORT: achim menges (professor, university of stuttgart), thomas auer (transsolar engineering)
TEAM: evan shieh, john delaney, martha schott, shabi mofakham, ali chen, augie liu, lexie ierace, isaac yoo
YEAR: five (5)
DATE: march, 2012
DESIGN LENGTH: two (2) weeks
PROJECT SITE: harris hall courtyard, school of architecture, usc
Pneumatics are somewhat of an architectural curiosity; never implemented on a mass scale, and only ever popularly used in the fanciful architectural experiments of the 80's and 70's by groups like Ant Farm. There are numerous advantages to pneumatic construction (weight, material, structural efficiency) but ultimately the unavoidable disadvantages of unpredictability, low durability, difficulty in planning, and its need for a constant air supply supersede them. But can new computational design methodologies and construction techniques allow us to reinvent this peripheral material system in a way that is both architecturally innovative and also environmentally sensitive?
Our design-build full-scale mock-up titled Cellul/Arch proposes a monocoque pneumatic system that performatively begins to adapt the functions of biological plant cells and leaves into an architectural building-systems way. Biological systems by evolution seek a mutually-beneficial equilibrium condition with both the surrounding environment and the organisms that share that environment. To mimic this behavior, the individual cells within Cellul/Arch are divided into two halves, one a reflective material and one a transparent membrane. During overcast skies, the halves are inflated equally in a neutral condition. During clear skies and hot weather, the reflective cell is inflated to block sunlight, and during cold weather the clear cell is inflated to absorb sunlight and convert it to heat. This fluctuation maximizes the comfort of the system inhabitant.
Structurally, a monocoque system is one in which both the skin and structure coexist dependently to absorb all or most of the stresses to which the system is subjected to. In Cellul/Arch, the singular pneumatic cells depend on the framework of the lightweight tensile structural steel frame to function performatively. At the same time, the thin steel frame is dependent on the existence of the cells to form its strength. In the pavilion's unpressurized state, the thin structural frame is compressed by its own weight. The pressure against the cell walls caused by filling them with air is enough that the frame expands to reach its full structural capacity while achieving an equilibrium state. These interdependent components propagate, connect, and exert force on each other symbiotically to create a larger, unified structural body whose purpose is to behave performatively.
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