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Students of Ball State Construct Parametric Tensegrity Structure for Local Art Fair

  • 01:00 - 4 October, 2014
Students of Ball State Construct Parametric Tensegrity Structure for Local Art Fair
© Gernot Riether
© Gernot Riether

A group of architecture students from Ball State University, together with professors Gernot Riether and Andrew Wit, have transformed a post-industrial landscape in Muncie, Indiana, into a new destination for the city’s local art fair with the construction of the Underwood Pavilion. The parametric tensegrity structure, made from 56 lightweight, self-shading modules of Elastan fabric, provides visitors with refuge from the sun and framed views of the surrounding landscape.

More about the structure, after the break.

© Gernot Riether
© Gernot Riether

From the project team: 

Lightweight structure: The Underwood pavilion’s modules were developed from different variations of a 3strut tensegrity module. Varying the distance between the upper face and the lower face and varying the scale between the upper face and the lower face of the module informed the curvature of the envelope. These variations also generated a different rotation within each module causing the envelope to twist in different directions. The structural simulation engines Rhino Membrane and Kangaroo were essential tools in the form finding process of the pavilion’s structure.

Exploded Axon. Image © Gernot Riether
Exploded Axon. Image © Gernot Riether

The final tensegrity state of a module could only be reached with all cables in tension and all bars in compression. The entire system remained loose with all members being connected except one. This allowed for the modules to be stacked and transported efficiently as a loose low–volume bundle of bars and cables (3” x 3” x 6’). At the site of construction only one cable per module had to be joined. Using a turnbuckle to connect the final node allowed regulating the stress in the module until it snapped into the predicted tensegrity geometry. Each of the 56 modules describes a volume of 3’ x 3’ x 3’ to 4’ x 4’ x 4’. 

© Gernot Riether
© Gernot Riether

Self-shading envelope: To respond to a specific context the modules were arranged in a tensegrity pattern. Skipping every second module in every second row created smaller and larger openings that were placed to frame the environment. Elastan, an eco-friendly polymer originally used for sportswear was adapted to create the pavilion’s self-shading envelope. Elastan is created from filaments that are more durable than non-synthetic materials such as rubber. It can be produced from 100% renewably sourced raw material such as recycled polyester. Once all modules were connected each module was dressed with an elastic fabric to form a minimal volume that was defined by the location of the struts and the elastic quality of the fabric.

Tensegrity structures have large advantages compared to other structural systems. Using predominantly tension members they are lighter and stronger than conventional systems. As temporary lightweight structure the Underwood pavilion additionally takes advantage of the self-erecting behavior of tensegrity systems. Using physics engines as a design tool shows how tensegrity systems can be parameterized to adapt to site and program.

Generation of Overall Structure. Image © Gernot Riether
Generation of Overall Structure. Image © Gernot Riether
  • Location

    Muncie, IN, USA
  • Design and Realization

    Gernot Riether, Prof. Dipl.-Ing., M.S. Architect, Andrew Wit, Prof. M.S. Project Team: Gernot Riether and Andrew Wit with Noor Al-Noori, Andrew Heilman, Chris Hinders, Charles Koers, Huy Nguyen, Nick Peterson, Steven Putt, Ashley Urbanowich
  • Supported by

    Ball State University
  • Community Partner

    Muncie Makers Lab
  • Area

    18.0 sqm
  • Project Year

  • Photographs

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About this office
Cite: "Students of Ball State Construct Parametric Tensegrity Structure for Local Art Fair" 04 Oct 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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