Armadillo Vault, Stone Structure that support itself without any glue
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Not a drop of glue or any other adhesive holds together the delicate, 2-inch-thick limestone tiles that make up this airy canopy, which billows into the vaulted ceilings of the Arsenale di Venezia at the 15th annual Venice Architecture Biennale. Conceived byBlock Research Group and presented by ETH Zurich, the ‘Armadillo Vault’ is a temporary custom-built installation showing off the surprising versatility of an unyielding material that’s been an architectural mainstay for millennia. Compression keeps all 399 individually-cut, unreinforced stones in place as they stretch across the cavernous space.
ETH Zurich’s Block Research Group worked with engineering firmOchsendorf DeJong & Block and masonry specialist The Escobedo Group to create the Armadillo Vault – the centrepiece of the Beyond Bending exhibition at the Venice Biennale.
The centerpiece of an installation entitled ‘Beyond Bending – Learning from the past to design a better future,’ the Armadillo Vault aims to show the world that digital design and fabrication methods can go hand in hand with humble, ancient building materials like earth and stone. Other components on display include four innovative vaulted floor systems and a series of graphical force diagrams showing how the stones fit together.
The curving canopy features structural spans of up to 16 metres, but is supported entirely through compression rather than with the use of adhesives or fixings.
“Without any glue or mortar, with perfectly dry connections, this is really a milestone for stone engineering,” explained Philippe Block, who runs Block Research Group with Tom Van Mele.
The project was developed using RhinoVAULT, a digital design plugin that is licensed by ETH Zurich and has over 16,000 users.
It is intended to demonstrate that, with detailed knowledge of how compressive forces affect architectural structures, buildings can be constructed more efficiently using sustainable materials rather than steel.
Block’s team chose to work with limestone – one of the most difficult materials to use structurally – to show how optimized geometries make it possible to build ambitious structures, even with limited resources.
To speed up the construction time, each piece of limestone was left unfinished on the underside – meaning the time spent on each piece averaged about 45 minutes, rather than several hours.
This created a canopy that looks similar to an armadillo shell on top, but has a rough, stripy underside.
The team carried out a test assembly of the structure with the building team in Texas before constructing it inside the Arsenale venue. This allowed them to create gentle grooves in some of the pieces, which provided a guide second time around.
ETH Zurich has a series of pioneering architectural research groups. Other examples of their work include a tower built from nothing but gravel and thread and structures built using drones.