This investigation by Kuan-Ting Lai, developed as part of his thesis on Reconfigurable Systems of Tensegrity at the University of Stuttgart, is an exploration of the capabilities of structural principles in creating transformable architectural structures.
The project, a prototype made of pneumatic cylinders and polycarbonate panels, explores different methods of reconfiguration based on the basic rules of tensegrity, demonstrating the potential to rapidly adjust the lighting or ventilation conditions offered by the structure.
Description from the Architect. The project explored the possibilities of utilizing tensegrity principles to build a structural system that can reconfigure itself. The research begins with understanding the basic tensegrity rules, then exploring the methods of reconfiguring tensegrity structures, and finally the prototype construction.
There are three primary objectives in this project—reconfigurability, responsiveness, and deployability. The structure can provide various architectural spaces and different illumination or ventilation conditions. In addition to that, the system is transportable and can either be installed on existing structures as a canopy or deployed as a self-supporting tent structure. This can be achieved with the same component layout but different anchoring methods.
Tensegrity is a unique structural system which consists of continuous tension members and discontinuous compression members. Each member of the system takes either tension or compression load. Due to this particular structural behavior, the project developed a geometry-based approach to approximate the equilibrium states of the system.
The scope focused on a parallel strut layout with 4 tensioning members connected to each end of the struts. The reconfiguration is done by adjusting the strut lengths. The approach of varying strut length is not only chosen because there are fewer struts than cables, but also because changing the strut length has significantly more influence on the global geometry. Kangaroo 2 was used in the kinematic studies to understand how the system adapts its shape when strut lengths change.
Based on the knowledge built from the geometric studies, a prototype with 13 units was designed and produced. The compression members are pneumatic actuators and the tension members are replaced by bendable polycarbonate panels. The main characteristic of this project is that the system only consists of just two elements—actuators and panels. The first actuates the structure while taking compression loads, whereas the panels provide shading and act as tensioning members. The system can be controlled and formed into the desired configurations by utilizing the tensegrity principles.
Designer: Kuan-Ting Lai, ITECH MSc. 2016 Master Thesis, University of Stuttgart
Thesis Advisors: Axel Körner, Anja Mader
Thesis Supervisor: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Knippers – Inst. of Building Structures & Structural Design
Second Supervisor: Prof. Achim Menges – Inst. for Computational Design
People who have supported and helped in this project: Martin Alvarez, Jan Brütting, Chen Chen, Hojoong Chung, Joshua Few, Ting-Chun Kao, Yen-Cheng Lu, Riccardo Manitta, Erik Martinez, Artyom Maxim, Michael Preisack, Jasmin Sadegh, Alexander Wolkow