The Living Prototypes exhibition at Aedes Architecture Forum in Berlin this past January showcased the latest European research into resource-conscious design and construction using digital 3D fabrication techniques and natural materials to produce strong but lightweight structural elements.
A robotically-wound flax fibre construction system, developed to optimise material efficiency in architectural components, is one of three full-scale prototypes shown at a new exhibition on digital fabrication and bio-based materials.
Run by The Aedes Metropolitan Laboratory and funded by the innovation programme Zukunft Bau on behalf of the German Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building, the 18-month research programme saw universities in Spain, Germany and Denmark collaborate with industry partners.
Earth, flax fibre and bioplastics were combined to develop the construction systems. The exhibition presented a single 1:1 scale installation built around the floorplan of a typical 1-bedroom apartment.
The apartment’s two lightweight hybrid timber/natural fibre slabs were made employing the flax fibre-winding system created by the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) and Industry partner FibR. The slabs are 4m x 2m, weigh around 200 kg and feature a network of flax fibres strung across a 19mm-thick three-layer timber plate. They are point-supported on four 3D-printed earth walls developed by fellow researchers from Barcelona’s Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and Italian company WASP.
Initial research and testing of the hybrid structure for the slabs focussed on the flax material build-up and the structural performance of natural fibres impregnated with different bio-based resins. Computational design was adopted to maximise the use and distribution of fibres under tension and to optimise the use of material to ensure efficient use of resources in construction.
According to The RIBA Journal, “FibR’s ‘coreless’ robotic filament winding process exploits a Kuka six-axis robot with a specially adapted head to stretch the pre-wound flax between different nodes on a structure. This enables a spatially complex, load-adaptive, arrangement of filaments.
“Researchers concluded that, based on the performance of the final prototype, the high level of adaptability of the fibre system makes it possible to mass-customise slabs to meet varying supporting conditions”.
A range of potential applications in buildings are being investigated, as further research is required to understand the structural predictability of bio architecture.