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Concrete and fabric structures

Industry News | August 11, 2014 | By:

The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) and Eawag, the Swiss water research center, are developing, with support of the entire Swiss ETHDomain, the research and technology platform NEST—a test bed for future building technologies. The project will involve partners from industry and several national and international universities.

The purpose of NEST is to foster the development of innovative building technologies in order to enable the construction of sustainable and affordable buildings that also exhibit the following features:

  • Marginal demand for energy or no demand at all
  • Negligible emissions of greenhouse gases
  • A highly efficient wastewater purification system

The project will create a large-scale research facility to address these challenges; the final goal is the development of self-sufficient buildings. NEST will also serve as an academic guest house for researchers at Empa and Eawag from all over the world.

The HiLo project

Ir. Diederik Veenendaal, doctoral research assistant, Institute of Technology in Architecture, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, is working on a project that uses fabrics to construct thin-shell concrete structures. HiLo is a research and innovation unit in the domains of lightweight concrete construction and smart, adaptive building systems, planned as a duplex guest apartment for the NEST building on the Empa campus. As part of a future living and working lab, it introduces five key innovations:

  1. An integrated, funicular floor system
  2. An integrated, thin-shell roof
  3. A lightweight formwork system for shell construction
  4. An adaptive solar façade
  5. An automated, occupant-centered building system

HiLo demonstrates innovations in material, structural and environmental technologies and of the architectural potential of the technologies.

It is designed as a reusable and lightweight mixed cable-net and fabric formwork system, which allows the reintroduction of efficient, doubly curved thin-shell roof structures, without high labor and resource investments. The formwork system offers a degree of control over the shape such that it can be easily optimized for improved structural behavior and other criteria, compared to traditional geometries.

The fabrics used can be anything from conventional geotextiles to textiles specially made for underwater fabric formworks or air-inflated formworks (usually PE or PP).  While woven carbon fiber or glass fiber textile reinforcements have been used, they generally are so coarse that they might better be described as grids or meshes.

Patterned textiles that partially bond with the cement to generate concrete structures with textile patterns have also been used, but other than that, no textiles for this specific purpose have been developed. Advanced textiles for fabric formworks are certainly imaginable, but the market is so novel and small, and textiles developed for other uses seem to work fine, so manufacturing fabrics unique to this use doesn’t seem likely or necessary, Veenendaal says.

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