The current research focus is mainly on the materialisation aspects of vacuumatic structures, since the structural (as well as geometrical) properties of vacuumatics heavily depend on the exact nature of the materials used.
With this in mind all parties interested in this specific field of research are invited to respond to this article and give the researcher suggestions for suitable materials, both for the skin and the filler material.
Our society can be characterised as rapidly changing and merged with individualisation and customisation. It can not be ignored that “free-form” designs and so-called blobs (from “binary large object”) are very actual phenomena within present-day architecture. Furthermore, buzzwords like “adaptable”, “responsive”, “dynamic” and even “smart” and “intelligent” are more and more common in contemporary building design.
A truly flexible and personalised living environment with changing identities seems to be inevitable. A relatively new and undeveloped way to realise this dynamic environment may be found with the introduction of vacuumatically prestressed adaptable structures – vacuumatics in short.
Vacuumatics can be regarded as an enclosing flexible skin with structural (filler) elements that utilises the atmospheric pressure as a rigidifying tool by extracting the air inside this enclosure. The differential in air pressure – negative pressure or vacuum – creates a structurally prestressing of the individual filler elements as the flexible skin is tightly wrapped around these elements.
Importantly, this vacuumatic prestressing “freezes” the geometry of the structure in its current shape hence creating rigid (but adaptable) forms – quite similar to vacuum packed coffee and the “Memo” bean bag.
The main advantage of vacuumatics is their form flexibility and adaptability enabling the production of a wide variety of 3-dimensional forms from one single structure. An important factor that determines the adaptability of vacuumatics is the amount of vacuum pressure. Without any negative pressure the filler elements inside the flexible enclosure possess hardly any consistency and are therefore able to “flow” freely inside this enclosing skin.
By increasing the amount of vacuum pressure the consistency of the filler elements gradually increases, resulting in a more or less plastic behaviour of the vacuumatic structure in partially deflated state. Finally, in fully deflated state the structure becomes rigid. A major advantage of this so called “flexibility control” is that the rigidifying process is reversible so vacuumatic structures can be re-shaped over and over again.
In order to literally mould vacuumatics into a desired shape some sort of morphological tooling is required that forces the filler elements into their required” configuration. Especially the ability to locally adjust the overall geometry has great potential with regard to its effectiveness within the modern built environment. The so called “form-fitting” capacity of the vacuumatic structure as the skin wraps the filler elements in vacuumatic state contributes to the vivid sensorial experience of vacuumatics, stimulating the readability and understanding of vacuumatics.
Although theoretically many types of filler materials can be applied with vacuumatics their enhanced structural properties in deflated state are essential. The packing of the filler elements as well as the specific material properties (like the shape, size, roughness, elasticity, and compressiveness) heavily influence the structural properties of vacuumatics with respect to their strength, stiffness and stability (and therefore safety and usability). Granular shaped materials for instance are known to pack closely together under compression resulting in a considerable amount of structural rigidity, whereas fibre-like materials tend to behave like a tightly interwoven structure under compression hence acting like a composite-like structure.
Self-evidently all sorts of combinations and configurations of filler elements can be created for all sorts of (architectural) purposes.
The skin on its turn does not only ensure the structural integrity of vacuumatics as it provides the structure with its essential air-tightness, its material properties (like the elasticity, flexibility, puncture resistance, tensile strength) also seem to heavily influence the structural potential of vacuumatics.
The aim of the research that is carried out at the Eindhoven University of Technology is to gain fundamental understanding in and control over the underlying design principles so as to be able to optimise structural assemblies to specific conditions and required behaviours. The current knowledge on vacuumatics is very limited and experience is mainly obtained by trial-and-error based experiments of certain prototypes.
With this specific research the combination of systematic theoretical and experimental research will provide fundamental insight in the overall structural as well as geometrical potential of vacuumatics as a flexible and adaptable building material within the contemporary building industry.
Researcher: Ir. Arch. F.A.A. Huijben / F.A.A.Huijben@tue.nl / +31(0)402473963
Supervisor: Prof. Ir. F. van Herwijnen (Eindhoven University of Technology / ABT Consulting Engineers)
Prof. Ir. R. Nijsse (Delft University of Technology / ABT Consulting Engineers)
University: Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands
Department of Architecture, Building and Planning