Research pavilions by University of Stuttgart are models of advanced construction

The bionic lightweight structures made by the researchers and students at the University of Stuttgart explore the integrative use of computational processes in architectural design.

by Aishwarya Chodankar Published on : Nov 01, 2019

The University of Stuttgart in Germany is a research varsity renowned for innovation in design and technology. Within the university, the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) is dedicated to the teaching and research of computer-aided manufacturing processes in architecture.

Integrating the fields of design, engineering, planning and construction, the institute provides a platform to explore the use of computational processes in the architectural design, with a focus on robotic fabrication. The researchers here have developed a lightweight timber construction system by combining robotic prefabrication with computational design and simulation processes, and also 3D scanning technologies used in the field of engineering.

Therefore, with a focus on research driven design, the ICD and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE), along with the students of the University of Stuttgart have been exploring the power of collaboration and computation over the last few years by creating a series of stunning pavilions.

The designs of these following experimental pavilions determine the constructional and architectural potentials of robotic fabrication in timber construction on a prototypical level.

Elytra Filament Pavilion, 2016

The Elytra Filament Pavilion at the Victoria and Albert Museum |Elytra Filament Pavilion | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
The Elytra Filament Pavilion at the Victoria and Albert Museum Image Credit: Roland Halbe

This pavilion was installed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2016. Allowing a glimpse into the future, the pavilion draws inspiration from striking architecture of the past: the Victorian Greenhouses. While the Greenhouses showcase the experimental spirit of architects who embraced and adopted new modes of making, the installation seeks to forecast how the so-called industrial revolution of robotic systems enables the emergence of new structural and material systems.

The pavilion was the outcome of four years of research on the integration of architecture, engineering, and biomimetic principles. It explores how biological fibre systems can be transferred to architecture. The 200sqm pavilion structure is inspired by the fibrous structures of the fore-wing shells of flying beetles, known as elytra, adapting principles of lightweight construction found in nature.

Prefabrication at ICD’s laboratory | Elytra Filament Pavilion | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Prefabrication at ICD’s laboratory Image Credit: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

The canopy constituted a fibrous tectonic system that was as architecturally expressive as it is structurally efficient to provide the visitor a unique spatial experience.

Fibrous system of the Elytra Pavilion | Elytra Filament Pavilion | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Fibrous system of the Elytra Pavilion Image Credit: Roland Halbe

The ICD Aggregate Pavilion, 2018

This pavilion was a successful result of the research conducted in designing granular materials for architecture over the last decade.

It constitutes the first fully enclosed architectural space entirely constructed from designed granules, which lie only in loose frictional contact. These unbound granular materials show the unique property of obtaining both the stable character of a solid material and rapid re-configurability of a fluid. The pavilion is based on the idea that if custom-designed particles are deployed, granular materials can form self-supporting spatial enclosures while remaining fully reconfigurable and reusable.

Inside the ICD Aggregate Pavilion | The ICD Aggregate Pavilion 2018 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Inside the ICD Aggregate Pavilion Image Credit: Courtesy of ICD, University of Stuttgart

The ICD Aggregate Pavilion demonstrates how designed granular materials open up a new perspective for an architecture that can be rapidly deployed and reconfigured, as well as eventually removed and reused.

Fabrication | ICD Aggregate Pavilion 2018 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Fabrication Image Credit: Courtesy of ICD University of Stuttgart

The pavilion uses two types of designed particles with different behaviours - convex spheres, which can flow, and highly non-convex hexapods and dekapods, which can interlock. The convex spheres are a removable formwork, the highly non-convex hexapods and dekapods remain as a self-supporting spatial structure. Both types can be re-used in a new formation as the particles are not bound to each other. Thus, particles deployed in preceding projects have been entirely re-used.

The ICD Aggregate Pavilion | ICD Aggregate Pavilion 2018 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
The ICD Aggregate Pavilion Image Credit: Roland Halbe

BUGA Wood Pavilion, 2019

View of the BUGA Wood Pavilion | BUGA Wood Pavilion 2019 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
View of the BUGA Wood Pavilion Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Stuttgart

The BUGA Wood Pavilion celebrates a new approach to digital timber construction and formed a major architectural attraction at the central summer island of the Bundesgartenschau in Heilbronn. Its segmented wood shell was based on biological principles found in the plate skeleton of sea urchins, which have been studied by the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart for almost a decade.

As part of the project, a robotic manufacturing platform was developed for automated assembly and milling of the pavilion’s 376 bespoke hollow wood segments. This fabrication process ensured that all segments fit together with sub-millimetre precision.

Assembly of components | BUGA Wood Pavilion 2019 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Assembly of components Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Stuttgart

The highly integrative process enabled the design and engineering of 376 unique plate segments with 17,000 different finger joints in response to multifaceted design criteria, from the scale of the overall structure down to sub-millimetre details. Without any loss of precision, this multi-scale approach allowed addressing architectural and structural considerations.

Diagram by ICD/ITKE |BUGA Wood Pavilion 2019 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Diagram by ICD/ITKE Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Stuttgart

Three dynamic arches formed inviting openings in the main directions to guide visitors into the pavilion’s interior. Hosting concerts and public events, the shell created a smoothly-curved space to provide very good acoustics, generating a unique architectural atmosphere.

View of the Pavilion | BUGA Wood Pavilion 2019 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
View of the Pavilion Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Stuttgart

BUGA Fibre Pavilion, 2019

This globally unique structure at Bundesgartenschau, Heillbronn, was not only highly effective and exceptionally lightweight, but also provided a distinctive yet authentic architectural expression and an extraordinary spatial experience. The pavilion’s load-bearing structure was robotically produced only from advanced fibre composites. The BUGA Fibre Pavilion aims to transfer this fibre composite system into architecture.

BUGA Fibre Pavilion | BUGA Fibre Pavilion 2019 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
BUGA Fibre Pavilion Image Credit: Roland Halbe

The pavilion, made from more than 150,000 meters of spatially arranged glass and carbon fibres, needed to be individually designed and placed. This being extremely hard to achieve, required a novel co-design approach, where architectural design, structural engineering and robotic fabrication were developed in continuous computational feedback.

Development process by ICD/ITKE | BUGA Fibre Pavilion 2019 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Development process by ICD/ITKE Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Stuttgart

The building components were produced by robotic, coreless filament winding, a novel additive manufacturing approach pioneered and developed at the University of Stuttgart. The pavilion covered a floor area of around 400 square meters, achieving a free span of more than 23 meters.

Inside the BUGA Fibre Pavilion |BUGA Fibre Pavilion 2019 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Inside the BUGA Fibre Pavilion Image Credit: Roland Halbe

The black carbon filament bundles, wrapping around the translucent glass fibre lattice-like flexed muscles, create a stark contrast in texture highlighted by the pavilion’s fully transparent skin.

Fibre system |BUGA Fibre Pavilion 2019 | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Fibre system Image Credit: Roland Halbe

Embedded in the wavelike landscape of the Bundesgartenschau grounds, the pavilion translated the innovation on a technical level into a unique architectural experience.

The Urbach Tower, 2019

The Urbach Tower is a unique wooden structure. The design of the tower emerged from a new self-shaping process used to produce curved wood components. This pioneering development constituted a paradigm shift in timber manufacturing from elaborate and energy-intensive mechanical forming processes that required heavy machinery to a process where the material shapes entirely by itself. This shape change was driven only by the wood’s characteristic shrinking during a decrease of moisture content.

View of the Urbach Tower |The Urbach Tower | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
View of the Urbach Tower Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Stuttgart

Components for the 14m tall tower were designed and manufactured in a flat state to transform autonomously into the final, programmed curved shapes during industry-standard technical drying. This opened up new and unexpected architectural possibilities for high performance and elegant structures using a sustainable, renewable, and locally sourced building materials.

Development process by ICD/ITKE and Empa/ETH Zürich| The Urbach Tower | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
Development process by ICD/ITKE and Empa/ETH Zürich Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Stuttgart

The Urbach Tower constitutes the very first structure worldwide made from self-shaped, building-scale components. It not only showcases an innovative manufacturing approach and resultant novel timber structure; but also intensifies the visitors’ spatial involvement and landscape experience by providing a striking landmark building for the City of Urbach’s contribution to the Remstal Gartenschau 2019.

View of the Urbach Tower | The Urbach Tower | University of Stuttgart | STIRworld
View of the Urbach Tower Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Stuttgart

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About Author

Aishwarya Chodankar

Aishwarya Chodankar

Chodankar has a keen interest in reading and writing. A student at the Academy of Architecture, she loves to travel, explore new places, and try different kinds of desserts and cuisines. Chodankar also shared her ideas at the Ted-Ed weekend 2016 in New York. She aspires to learn with every challenge and opportunity, and delve into her passion for journalism in the years to come.

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