It’s a shame that the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial has already come and gone, and that the Windy City will have to wait until next fall for another dose of architectural euphoria. But it’s worth revisiting one of the event’s standout exhibits, an installation equally exemplary for its display as for its expiry. “Rock Print,” created by Gramazio Kohler Research of ETH Zurich and Skylar Tibbits of MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, was a four-legged, neo-primitive tower of stones and string that was erected without mortar or other reinforcement, meaning its disassembly would be the exact inverse action of its construction. The string, laid down by an algorithm, was the binder for stones laid by hand in thin stacks – the team called them “slices” – in what amounted to a type of analog version of 3D printing. The material process has been given the name “reversible concrete” and could be a paradigm shift in construction for its portability and versatility.
In the above video, the deconstruction of “Rock Print” is shown in abridged stages, where the structure’s string is dislodged and returned to a motorized spool on the gallery floor. The small stone fragments spew from the top of the structure like debris from the top of a volcano in the midst of eruption, and all that remains at the end is a small mound of concrete pebbles occupying a large circumference. A structure like “Rock Print” emphasizes that detritus can be avoided by adapting the process of building to vanguard materials that seek to match the brevity of contemporary construction with materials that curtail the waste.