Production makes perfect.

November 20, 2010

Photo from our intermediate review

Without the doing there is no thinking. Quantity results in quality.

Before our tutor Remo Pedreschi introduced Tyler, Alastair and myself to Eladio Dieste, we had never heard of  him or seen a photo of his work. A month on and he has become a new hero. He was a builder, architect and engineer and constructed some incredible brick structures that demonstrate the wonderous possibilities of mastering a material and using its inherent characteristics to express surface continuity, the detail of joints and structural efficiency. He became a specialist of his chosen medium through the process of refined construction, analysis and varied, improved repetition to create and appreciate buildings that display the value of what precision really means.

Eladio Dieste's Church of Atlantida during construction, Uraguay 1961

‘Today we seem to give more thought to the drawings than to the work itself…I beleive the essential thing is the work, not the plans. And if the plans prove unable to help us express something that we consider valid, this is no reason to abandon our idea.’ (Dieste)

Dieste proved that true expression comes from the act of building and constructing. The limitations of the drawing board, used to create a graphic representation of an imagined building, constrains the necessary knowledge of a material and its capabilities. Knowledge that is only acquired and attained by working with the material to understand its characteristics, properties and behaviour, with the ambition to efficiently ‘…resist through form’ in elegant and often a surprising manner.

Our fabric formed wall and final piece proved to us that Dieste was right. Never since the start of my architectural education have I produced a piece of work without using a drawing board. It speaks volumes that in 6 weeks at Edinburgh my drawing board has been accumulating dust and only used as a make-shift book shelf, totally uninvolved in the design process, whilst a team of us have produced the most personal and rewarding work of our studies so far.

”We are always faced with the limits of what we could calculate…Time consuming, uncertain processes were replaced by efficient rapid analysis.’ (Dieste)

Analysis of the first prototype column

We learnt to obey the accumulated knowledge discovered through the analysis of our previous structures. As Dieste describes ‘it will only be the power of the imagination, the ability to “see” the work through its various stages, that will be our guarantee of viability and efficiency’. This in turn would guide us to ‘a necessary precision’ for the final piece.

Analysis of the prototype wall. Determining the angles of the legs, voids and where creases occurred in the fabric. Assessing the weaker areas of the structure and finding a rule that would inform the production of the next piece of work.

We were reassured in the validity of our design process used for formwork of the wall and our final piece. We devised a set of rules that would maximise the flow and exploit the properties of a wet concrete mix. The design of each prototype was only ever sketched as an idea – the final design was only ever finalised when we were happy with the chalk lines marked out on the fabric and sewn the voids closed. Obeying the rules and making amendments where necessary to arrive at a satisfactory template was integral to the planning process.

Rules for fabric formed concrete design

It would have been impossible to have drawn an accurate plan, section and elevation of the cast concrete until we had designed and sewn the formwork and even then the exact expansion and compression of the fabric in different areas, that greatly affect the form, is almost impossible to determine without limitless and complicated mathematics. However, the consequences of the maths were on display through the analysis of previous work, so we used the knowledge and experience of our past experiments to calculate, anticipate and plan each part of the formwork – discussing, referring to the prototypes and planning how to pour and manage the concrete. The design process was in fact a conversation between the three of us with experience and faith in the materials we were using guiding our decisions.

A series of concept sketches were produced, to communicate an idea of articulating mass and form and establish the parameters of the frame we would be casting in and calculate the size of the fabric required.

A quick oblique sketch, shows the basic layout of the fabric in relation to the frame it would be hung from.

Designing was at 1:1. With discussions about the flow of the concrete, the position of reinforcement and the way the fabric would expand and compress in each area.

The wall design is drawn out , and the sleeve position for the columns determined.


Depicting the slenderness of t

Void detal in the mass of the wallMass reduction in the 'solid' side of the wall

Links to a fabric formed wall

Our first prototype wall, essentially several columns joined together that advance the discoveries and experience gained through the process of making the columns that proceeded it.

The link takes you to the Disruptive Technologies website, where there are several links to articles about the ongoing work and discussions in the unit.

There are also two videos that show us casting and peeling the wall that clarify the process of hanging, filling and stripping the fabric.



Mass reduction in the 'solid' side of the wall

Cotton Formed Columns

November 14, 2010


First prototype column cast in its formwork

Prototype Column – Discovery through doing

These last few weeks have been an incredible learning curve from the previous post – post-rationalising is important however in a process where technique evolves through production, analysis and improvement.

Our fabric formed concrete has evolved in such a way, quickly moving from the horizontally cast wall panels to familiarising ourselves with the technique of casting vertical column elements. There are only three of us in the unit and we quickly learnt that producing larger pieces requires good team work, ideas from each of us and man-hours to construct the formwork, cast effectively – and to succeed.

We analysed previous projects completed in 5 week workshops that have run over the last four years. Our intention was to take the wealth of experience and knowledge of past experiments and develop these techniques, refine them or even find a new direction to pursue. We were intrigued by a column that clamped the fabric to create voids by preventing the concrete filling certain areas. We liked the thought sewing a void in the fabric instead of using clamps. This technique had scope for further investigation.

The First prototype Column

The first prototype column is an irregular ‘Y’ shape with two voids. The central void was created using shaped MDF clamps, the other void was created by stitching the cotton along the top to create a final structure that read as a ‘y’. We quickly realised that stitching is an important technique in the production of the formwork and the decision to explore the possibilities and limitations of sewing the fabric was taken from there.

Prototype column initial sketch

The best way to design the column was to chalk the outline of the column directly on to the black cotton fabric. From the two-dimensional layout we calculated the diameter of the holes left open at the top – in order to construct the top plate from which the fabric would be hung and pulled into tension. Using a sewing machine we stitched along the lines to fix the shape into the fabric and prevent the concrete flowing into those areas.

Attaching fabric to the formwork

Rigging the base was tricky. A fabric wants to go into a cylinder, but we had prepared a square base so it crumpled up over the ledge. However, the final results are quite pleasing – there is an essence of a classical statue to the form. Constructing the top plate was straight forward using a jigsaw to cut an ellipse and a circle connected by a slit to feed the sewn fabric through. We ensured that the fabric was in tension and top of the column was level, stapling it to the top plate.

Top plate fixing before the pour

Casting and Patching

Patching during the pour

Our mix was probably not quite fluid enough and our first attempt at an arm was quite narrow resulting in aggregate getting stuck at the top and causing a frantic effort to force the aggregate into the arm and compact it sufficiently. In the process of solving this, we didn’t manage to push a steel reinforcing bar into the arm and we were wary that we hadn’t managed to compact the base of the arm well enough. A more serious problem arose, however, when we noticed that we had accidentally pierced the fabric in a couple of places with the vibrating rod. This required some emergency patchwork using excess fabric, pulling it around the arm and stapling it to the central clamp. We prevented the leak, but the evidence is still visible in the final cast – like the scars of construction visible like a bullet hole. Honesty and evidence of construction is important so Louis Kahn would be pleased.

A Greek form?

First Prototype column

Once the column had been ‘peeled’ after a few days curing, we enjoyed the results of our first column cast. The surface finish of the cotton was visible on the surface and the form was very appealing. Another noticeable and informative difference was the quality of finish between the clamped void and the seam stitched void.

The stitched seam was prominent on the surface of the concrete, where it had been rubbed into the surface of the wet cement. The are that was clamped had a rougher surface finish and a different colour, because it wasn’t possible to rub that area in contact with the cement.

The convenience, possibilities and effect created using stitching was an important discovery that we developed in all the following work.

Detail image of the stitched void, visible on the surface of the concrete

Verticle view showing the delicacy of the structure

The first column in the foreground with the next two in the background