Architecture practice Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) have designed a concrete pavilion for the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial. Today, the practice is unveiling the work of its interdisciplinary practice with Stereoform Slab, a to-scale prototype of a future building system made using advanced robotic fabrication techniques. The project is simultaneously an activation and an exhibition that illustrates a design method that reduces the carbon footprint of concrete construction.
The third Chicago Architecture Biennial, titled “...and other such stories”, focuses on the social, geopolitical, and ecological processes that interact with the built environment. Design for the Biennial, SOM's pavilion replicates and abstracts a single-story concrete bay found in high-rise construction to create a simple architectural expression. Removed from its typical context, the structure was made to show how digital fabrication can be leveraged in the building industry. The pavilion was realized through industry partnerships with McHugh Construction, real estate investment and development firm Sterling Bay, Denmark-based Odico Construction Robotics, and Autodesk.
Stereoform Slab envisions a more sustainable alternative to the ubiquitous urban concrete slab—the most common element in contemporary construction. SOM’s research reveals that 40-60% of a building’s carbon footprint results from the development of the concrete slab itself. With this sustainable fabrication technique of concrete formwork using advanced robotics, the amount of material used and waste generated is minimized, with an approach that uses 20% less concrete than a conventional system, and results in a 20% carbon reduction.
“This pavilion demonstrates the exciting potential for design, technology, and building collaborations to make a significant impact on the way we approach large-scale construction. This is particularly important as we consider the ongoing development of urban environments and therefore, the increasingly pressing need for sustainable solutions,” explained Scott Duncan, SOM Design Partner. “The design of Stereoform Slab expresses a more intelligent allocation of material, evocative of forms in nature. When applied to the entirety of the built environment, this technology can pave the way to a more expressive, sustainable, and innovative future of architecture.”
In addition, SOM has partnered with the Chicago Athletic Association to install the Conversation Bench, a continuous surface through the Drawing Room on the Chicago Athletic Association’s second floor, connecting all people in a singular gesture. This unified seat is created from one surface, one volume, and one movement of a robotic arm—a product of implicit form design and no-waste manufacturing. The Bench was created in partnership with Bridgewater Studio and will be on display from September 16th through September 22nd, 2019.
Stereoform Slab and the Conversation Bench were made to create urban interventions in the city that are shaped by new methods of digital fabrication within the fields of construction and architectural design, and establish a temporary space for civic engagement. Designed to illustrate possibilities for the future of construction, they also create inclusive civic spaces for visitors to reimagine the ways in which they can engage each other and the built and natural world.
News via SOM