Composite Tectonics

Matter – Chapter 25: Composite Tectonics

This chapter, written by Marcelo Spina and Georgina Huljich followed the science and exploration of synthetic and composite materials in the fabrication of two very differing applications; Case A: unibodies of FRP (fiber reinforced polymers), and Case B: an office building in Chengdu, China, using GFRC (glass fiber reinforced cement).

The overall argument of the authors is that composites are an area of architecture design that is flexible and takes advantage of the plastic qualities of composites for new purposes or expressions. This is done without a “reverse engineering” that creates a composite design which mimics the known characteristics of materials we are familiar with. Spina and Huljich consider Hollywood set production of the past to be “reverse engineering”.

Their FRP unibodies combine core-mat or balsa wood with fiber cloth, and resin. These can be combined many differing ways or layered to produce varying structural qualities. The fibers in the composites can give appearances of bulk and thickness while remaining lightweight. Surfaces can be artificially manipulated for a desired effect due to the uneven distribution of materials within. Being able to change the material properties of these composites opens new possibilities for today’s material innovations according to the authors.

The Chengdu office building was an innovative test at a larger scale. The GFRC components were all designed and fabricated offsite to integrate seamlessly with traditional materials, accentuating a unique design that would be difficult to obtain otherwise.

Both case studies could be applicable for my design to Acorn Alley. I am proposing insertion of pergolas in several locations of the alley and the centrally located plaza. I wanted to use wood in fabrication for the way it complements the alley brick and pavers. It also produces a desired texture when painted. The biggest hindrance would be water, sunlight, mold, and freeze effects over time. Composites could be a solution to maintenance and could also be designed to mimic the structural and aesthetic appearance of wood. Choice of a currently produced composite would be critical, so as not to appear artificial.

Barry Kauffman


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