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.


4 Responses to “Production makes perfect.”

  1. diedo said


  2. […] by this blog post: “Production makes perfect” and this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert: “Your elusive creative […]

  3. Kate said

    hi i was just wondering what type of concrete mix you used?
    and if you had any tips for getting the mix through the horizontal spaces? Thanks

    • Hi Kate. It was a standard concrete mix, I can’t remember the exact ratio (I might have mentioned it somewhere on here) but it was nothing special. In fact we resisted using plasticiser as it would make the concrete flow too quickly and expand the fabric too much. The key to ensuring a good ‘flow’ of concrete was to follow the rules set out on the home page of the blog – but to summarise: Avoid horizontals altogether as these form unpressurised areas, cause blockages and they can’t be vibrated as effectively. We discovered this with the first couple of columns so in the final piece we used long planks of wood to ensure that all areas were accessible and could achieve a good flow of concrete to the base of the structure. There were no horizontals, the shape of the voids that you can see chalked on to the cloth are more tear drop shaped, not circular and offset from each other. See the ‘rules’ that we established on the home page of the blog or here: Thanks for your interest and hope this helps.
      What are you producing?

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