I've been working at the Institut für Architektur for about 3.5 years now. During this period, I've collaborated with various design chairs each semester, witnessing an array of projects and diverse design approaches. This semester, Sommersemester 2023, my colleague Mirza from CoLab Berlin (collaborative design laboratory) invited me to serve as a guest critic for students' midterm presentations, providing insight on structural design and behavior.
Prior to the presentation, I reviewed the projects and students' work to get a comprehensive overview. I was particularly intrigued as the primary objective of the project was not only architecturally stimulating but also structurally challenging!
The goal of this seminar is to develop a playground with a geodesic dome made out of recycled plastic that can host public activities. The aim is to build a real project in the third semester.
For more information, visit the seminar's webpage: http://colab-tuberlin.de/bachelor/design-matter-ii/
During the midterm presentations, three groups unveiled their concepts. Contrary to popular belief, designing a geodesic dome isn't a straightforward task with a singular solution - far from it! Each group presented a completely distinct concept, which truly enlivened the session. A crucial aspect to bear in mind: the students' primary building material was recycled plastic, adding an immense layer of complexity to their task.
Designing a dome, or any shell construction, is among the most intricate structural challenges for engineers. This highly efficient structural element requires a robust understanding of structural engineering principles, material behavior, and more. Designing a geodesic dome elevates the task to another level, and attempting to do so with recycled plastic takes the challenge even further! It was incredibly insightful to observe the instinctive structural models created by the students.
The discussions during the session were enlightening, offering valuable insights not only in structural design but also in architectural concepts. I left the midterm presentation with immense respect for our students and the CoLab team. It was refreshing to encounter this unique facet of architecture.
After the presentation, I spent considerable time contemplating the potential improvements for the projects. I was fortunate to be involved in the final presentations again as a critic. The students had noticeably enhanced their projects, making them more practical while simultaneously pushing boundaries to achieve architectural quality intuitively by adhering to the principles of structural design.
The final presentation was equally gratifying. We engaged in constructive discussions and mutually learned from each other.
As a structural engineer, I firmly believe that material is taking the reins in structural design. To me, the traditional mantra of 'form follows function vs function follows form' seems obsolete. Rather, it's clear that everything and everyone must adapt to the demands of the material. Utilizing recycled plastic provides a valuable lesson about the significance of material choice in the design process. Having consulted over 300 students in 3.5 years, I can confidently say that a lack of understanding of material properties was one of the most prevalent challenges in students' design processes. Therefore, I strongly advise our students to invest time in understanding the chosen material right from the inception of each project or semester.