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Freedom of Design - The future of architecture & construction

Aktualisiert: 6. Juli 2020

Today, no one would think of designing a new aircraft out of metal - because carbon is so much more energy efficient. But the architecture and construction industry has been slow to introduce lighter reinforcement materials because of regulations and because of the history of using steel and concrete. Composite materials seem to have unlimited potential and can help make designs a reality in ways that other material systems cannot.

The famous architect Greg Lynn* believes that good outweighs bad when it comes to carbon fibre composites: "Building with carbon fibre is one of the last truly artisan, craft-based construction methods".

In some countries where composite materials are recognised in building codes as a legitimate building material, this is changing more quickly the shape of their regional buildings. In the Middle East and Asia, composite materials are increasingly being used in projects as architects explore new ways to design more complex shapes.


For example, more than 3000 composite panels have been used in the eye-catching facade of the KAFD World Trade Center, the second tallest tower in the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.


I think the delay in introducing the material into architecture and construction is that most architects and civil engineers do not recognized the principles and huge advantages of the material. It is elementary to define a shape and understand how the load paths run. The freedom to design a building depends on understanding the vectors of the forces.

Architecture with composite materials becomes efficient and successful when designers and structural engineers work closely together.

Material calculations such as Finite Element Analysis (FEA) help in the detailed shape determination by defining the structural loads. Material properties can be adjusted via the shape depending on the loads caused by fibre orientation, materials and invisible reinforcements. The designer can be free in the shaping, but the engineer helps to reduce costs and optimize the production process.

This goes against the traditional architectural practice of simplifying structural loads vertically and horizontally on columns and beams. But this thinking leads to a completely new language of architectural design by creating an intelligent structure.


Quang Truong is an architect fascinated by composite materials. Truong studied both art and engineering and now runs his own studio in Portland, Ore. After practicing architecture for about 15 years, he wrote a book on composite materials in architecture: "I saw a gap in the literature for a publication that focused on the architectural design possibilities of composite materials. He believes that when an architect starts to use composite materials, he will find new, original ways of using them.

The understanding of composite materials will help to achieve a certain design goal with more freedom. Apple buildings like the Steve Jobs Theatre show a specific vision of how the material can expand architectural possibilities.


Most of the time the term composite is understood as a material made of carbon or glass fibre - in my opinion, the greatest strength of composites lies in the possibility of combining different materials - the possibilities are endless:

- Teak veneer on PU foam

- Concrete on carbon fibre

- Aluminium on Kevlar honeycomb

- Glass fibre on balsa wood ...

Each solution has its specific strengths.

You have such a variety of possibilities to create your design by using cores in different densities and thicknesses, different types of fibres, different types of resins and different types of processes. It is important to optimize the solutions for each project, which is not always the case with conventional materials.

Depending on the thickness/strength of the foam core the stiffness increases radically compared to the total weight. The core has also a big influence on isolation and noise reduction.

This means that it is not worth using composite materials for a building designed for conventional methods and materials because this would not take advantage of the unique properties of composite materials.


An example: carbon and concrete

The Carbon House on the campus of the Technical University of Dresden is the world's first building made of carbon fibre reinforced concrete. The 2,200 square foot building consists of a prefabricated box and a double-curved roof. The carbon fiber offers the tensile strength of steel at one quarter of its weight. Manfred Curbach, Director of the Institute for Concrete Construction at the Technical University of Dresden, explained that components made of composite materials are more durable and environmentally friendly and save up to 70% of greenhouse gas emissions.


Same time. Save costs.

The other aspect is the way they are installed. Architects who choose to use composite materials from the beginning can benefit from their light weight, which reduces the structural load and allows the use of lower capacity cranes for installation. In addition, composite building materials can be produced outside the factory and are not delayed by bad weather conditions. The lightweight parts can be easily transported and assembled on site, which can save a lot of money and time. Large parts can be divided into smaller, ideally repetitive parts that can be produced in moulds.

About prefabrication of composite parts: It make no sense to build wind blades on side. Neither big composite roof parts.


An example: Ferrari Land theme park in Spain

800 individual GRP parts, curved GRP composite wall cladding and roof profiles, were manufactured in one factory and then mounted on site. The parts extended over approx. 1,500 square metres and had to comply with the fire protection specification Euroclass B, s2, d0.


Fire protecting can look so beautiful

When using composite materials for construction applications, there are several obstacles to overcome, not only the cost of the materials but also their ability to meet certain fire safety regulations. However, the authorities are constantly making progress in these areas. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of unusual know-how and experience required when it comes to the fire resistance of composite materials. Here are some ways to achieve fire resistance with special resistances, self-extinguishing foams, coatings or by combining traditional fire resistant materials such as gypsum and lime plaster or rookwool.

In recent years we have found a great solution to combine fire resistance with very beautiful surfaces. Gypsun has a long tradition:

Sunday, September 2 to Thursday, September 6, 1666, the Great Fire gutted the medieval City of London within the old Roman city walls. Building with wood and roofing with straw had been forbidden for centuries, but these cheap materials were still used. In 1667, on 18 August 1667, King Louis XIV of France ordered that sick buildings had to be covered with gypsum and lime plaster on the inside and outside to prevent fires... Thanks to this, Paris did not burn down.

Gypsum of Paris, a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder of calcium sulphate hemihydrate that hardens when moistened and allowed to dry. The plaster of Paris, known since ancient times, is so called because it is made from the plaster that is abundant in the vicinity of Paris. Paris plaster generally does not shrink or crack when dry, making it an excellent medium for moulds. It is also used in medicine to make plaster casts to immobilize broken bones during healing. Plaster, which can provide passive fire protection for interior surfaces.


Example: Platre - Composite & Gypsum means a dream team

The 130-year-old French company Platre and the innovative company Enata from the United Arab Emirates have developed a method of creating a stable bond between carbon or glass composite panels and Platre, which gives the composite material traditional, warm surfaces and high fire resistance. Platre is applied in the Louvre, Paris and a lot more famous or impressive buildings. The combination of Platre and Carbon Composite leads to a new material with unique features.


Designing the future

The use of composite materials will definitely change the way we build. Over the last hundred years or so, we have mostly seen buildings made of stone, wood or steel. Computer aided design methods and cheaper composite materials will definitely become a more popular way of building houses and buildings.

After all, knowing composites means not giving up the idea of a complicated shape or a wide flowing curve. You do not have to give up your vision! Composite materials allow you to design without shape restrictions. I expect will see more double curved facade in the future with the use of composite materials thanks to the freedom of design they provide.

If you have any questions, please contact me.

* Greg Lynn is famous for 'blob architecture', he works a lot with carbon composites in his studios in Venice and California.

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