Turns out one of the most ubiquitous space-age materials in existence, which can be found in everything from airplanes to golf clubs, might also be one of the integral materials of our future. Carbon fiber is a long, thin strand of material mostly composed of carbon atoms bonded together into microscopic crystals, making it incredibly strong and lightweight.
While Thomas Edison might have created some of the first carbon fibers in history while experimenting with light bulb filaments in 1879, the modern form of the material dates back to the 1950s. Today, it’s an ideal medium for industrial robots, who are capable of weaving it into extremely complex shapes.
Offering a beautiful example of what that can look like is the BUGA Fibre Pavilion by the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. Displayed at the Bundesgartenschau Heilbronn horticultural show, the pavilion is both computationally designed and robotically fabricated.
The researchers chose to display the pavilion in this public venue in the hope of making more people aware of what carbon fiber can do when paired with emerging robotic technologies, which could help push updates to building codes. But even to have them included in the show, the researchers had to go through a full building application approval procedure in Germany.
The pavilion features more than 150,000 meters of glass and carbon fibers woven around a central framework, which is then fully enclosed by a transparent ETFE membrane. Altogether, it’s about five times lighter than a more conventional steel structure of the same size.
The design team explains: “Embedded in the wavelike landscape of the Bundesgartenschau grounds, the BUGA Fibre Pavilion offers visitors an astounding architectural experience and a glimpse of future construction. It builds on many years of biomimetic research in architecture at the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart.”
“This globally unique structure is not only highly effective and exceptionally lightweight, but it also provides a distinctive yet authentic architectural expression and an extraordinary spatial experience. The BUGA Fibre Pavilion aims to transfer the biological principle of load-adapted and thus highly differentiated fiber composite systems into architecture. Manmade composites, such as the glass- or carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics that were used for this building, are ideally suited for such an approach because they share their fundamental characteristics with natural composites.”
Shown alongside the BUGA Fibre Pavilion was the BUGA Wood Pavilion, which features biomimetic lightweight construction made of segmented wooden shells inspired by the plate skeletons of sea urchins. Because of the way that the pavilion’s 376 custom hollow wooden segments fit together into a massive three-dimensional puzzle, the creators were able to use a lighter and smaller amount of material than usual to produce a larger span.
Industrial robots prefabricated all of the pavilion’s segments within a single compact manufacturing unit, and the pavilion was assembled by just two craftspeople without requiring any scaffolding or formwork. All of the components were designed to be disassembled and reused at a different site.
“Drawing a line from traditional carpentry to high-tech robotic fabrication methods, the BUGA Wood Pavilion showcases the possibilities for efficient, economical, ecological, and expressive wood architecture that arises at the intersection of master craft, digital innovation, and scientific research.”