Textile architecture creates Hybrid Tower

We all know rigid building materials such as concrete and bricks. But what would happen if a structure was built with soft materials? Various architects (CITA), structural and textile engineers, material testing specialists and a knitting company asked themselves that very same question. Together, they created the Hybrid Tower, made from soft materials that give way to forces in a controlled manner, as an architecture that embraces the idea of resilience and adaptation.

The team developed material and design fabrication processes which allowed them to knit materials as structural elements in a new and unprecedented manner.

The tower is made from two components: bent GFRP rods and a custom made CNC knit. Both these materials are very lightweight, but form a stiff structure that is capable of balancing wind and other external forces through an interdependent combination of compression and tension elements.

While the Hybrid Tower is extremely light and easy to assemble, it is still strong enough to withstand three months of being outdoors.

To realise the tower, the team needed to create a framework for balancing feedback from different scales of design engagement: that of material design, simulation and analysis to specification and fabrication. In order to use knitted fabrics in an architectural project, they had to create new simulation and testing techniques for elastic materials.

Currently, textile architecture uses cut out patches of large rolls of fabric, of which the details are applied later on. In case of the tower, all details are embedded into the material itself. The final shape is knitted directly on the CNC knitting machine.

Rather than a storey oriented assembly, the structural skin of the tower is produced on the ground as a large prestressed panel. This is then rolled into shape, tensioned, transported horizontally to the site, and then erected.

The 9 metre (29.5 feet) high structure is light enough to be carried by just 6 people. In order to ease assembly, a set of puzzle-like joints are integrated into the form that can be attached to round beams after they slide through the channels. These are able to withstand vertical loads of up to 50 kg (110 pounds) each.

Created as a proof on concept, Hybrid Tower was exhibited for three months in Guimaraes (PT) as part of the Contextile festival (30 July to 16 October 2016).

Photos: Anders Ingvartsen (via Designboom)