Tailored flexibility

Research output: Non-textual formDesign


Tailored Flexibility is a research project that combines large-scale robotic 3D-printing, flexible-form work, inverted pressure casting and Glass-Fibre Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) to produce highly differentiated lightweight facade panels with minimal waste. The research project ‘Material imagination: Reconnecting with the matter of architecture’ studies how digital design and fabrication tools might engage a penetrating imagination of material manipulation. The PhD sub-project focusing on concrete and carried out by co-author Jon Engholt investigates how the material characteristics of liquid concrete manifest emergent aesthetic qualities when confronted by digital means of control. Carried out as successions of physical experimentation, this study includes a notion of digital craft, in which matter, mind and manipulation are intimately connected.

Such intimate involvement with physical matter suggests not only a method of study but also invites an attitude of material research. Initially driven by curiosity rather than demand, the successions of prototypes offer an example of how fertile such inquisitive experimental studies might be.

The material experiments initially studied the combination of fabric form work and large-scale fused deposition modelling (FDM). By printing patterns of thermoplastics onto a two-way stretch fabric, the deposited material acts to locally reinforce the fabric and thus restrain the liquid concrete. The physical form thus arises from the gravitational negotiation between liquid concrete and the tailored variable elasticity of thermoplastic-reinforced fabric form work. The development process studied: fabric/thermoplastic adhesion; pattern topology and tool path generation; reuse of rigid casting rig parts; horizontal and vertical casting in one- and two-sided molds; thermoplastic blends and performance; form work material reuse; inverse pressure casting and bespoke panel design.

The exhibited artifacts demonstrate a prototypical iteration towards lightweight concrete panels that involves fixing the reinforced fabric membrane in a rigid frame, weighing it down with sand, sealing the sand inside the form work, inverting the assembly and spraying GFRC onto the smooth fabric, that now bulges from the sand pressure. This method produces a high-quality lightweight panel with a pattern of concave cavities throughout the exposed surface thus inverting the familiar bulging aesthetic of fabric form work in architecture (Fisac, Unno, West, Kudless etc.) Intended for a larger facade element assembly, each triangular panel is cast against individually printed fabric membranes while the rigid frame can be repeatedly re-used and adjusted to define the size and edges of each panel.

Embracing the second meaning of prototype – primitive – the project demonstrates how iterative successions of prototypical studies might transform something fundamentally artistic (or architecturally primitive) into a functional architectural element.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMelbourne
PublisherUniversity of Melbourne
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2020


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