As everyone knows, if you stack layer upon layer of small stones atop one another, what you eventually get is a pile of stones. It's among the least dramatic phenomena in the whole of nature; add string though, and the whole process is transformed. That's the idea behind Rock Print, an installation at the Chicago Architecture Biennial created by Gramazio Kohler Research of ETH Zurich and Skylar Tibbits of MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, which uses just these two elements to create a dramatic four-legged column that is self-supporting and can be quite literally unraveled into its constituent parts after use.
The column was constructed inside wooden formwork, with layers of string laid down by a robotic arm following an algorithmically-determined pattern. In between these string layers, thin layers of stone were spread by hand. After the installation had reached full height, the formwork was removed, leaving only the string-bound sections of the print still standing.
As Tibbits explained to The Creators Project, the process is essentially the same as powder-based 3D printing techniques, the only difference in this case being that the granules are significantly larger, and instead of a chemical binder, it uses string as a mechanical binder. The strength of the structure is reliant on the balance between the "jamming phenomenon" - a result of a large number of particles crammed into one space - and the binding tension provided by the string.
According to Gramazio Kohler, the project goes "far beyond the manual assembly techniques of dry masonry," presenting "a sustainable, economical, and structurally sound construction method that fundamentally challenges conventional architecture."
Credits: Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich, and Self-Assembly Lab, MIT
Team: Prof. Fabio Gramazio, Prof. Matthias Kohler, Skylar Tibbits, Andreas Thoma (project lead installation), Petrus Aejmelaeus-Lindström (project research lead), Dr. Volker Helm, Sara Falcone, Lina Kara'in, Michael Lyrenmann, George Varnavides, Stephane de Weck, Dr. Jan Willmann
Selected experts: Prof. Dr. Hans J. Herrmann and Dr. Falk K. Wittel, ETH Zurich; Prof. Dr. Heinrich Jaeger and Kieran Murphy, University of Chicago
Selected consultants: Walt + Galmarini AG
Sponsors: Pro Helvetia Swiss Arts Council, swissnex, MISAPOR, and Beton AG
The project is supported by ETH Zurich and the Department of Architecture as well as by an ETH Zurich research grant. It is co-supported by MIT's Department of Architecture, the MIT International Design Center, and an MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI) grant.
Correction update: The spelling of Skylar Tibbits' name has been corrected in the title of this article.