Fabric-cast concrete – the construction method of the future

Concrete is the most used man-made material in the world and is the fundamental physical medium for most of the world’s architecture and construction. The character of concrete is largely the product of the rigid moulds that have shaped it since its invention in antiquity. The advent of flexible moulds, however, marks a radical break from conventional practice – and conventional concrete architecture.

Researchers at the University of California have developed a method of casting concrete in Lycra stretched by robotic arms, which they believe could be used to create radical new architectural forms.

The Fabric Forms project involves pouring a concrete fibreglass mixture into Y-shaped Lycra sleeves stretched into position by six-axis robots.

This casting method has implications at various scales in the construction site of the future, say the researchers. When scaled up it can create unique building facade elements or even the primary structure of a building.

Because it is easy to produce, the fabric allows users to create many shapes without having to cast a unique mould every time they produce a new shape. This lends itself well to parametric design, where dramatic forms can be achieved by digitally altering a set of variables at the design stage.

The designers Ron Culver and Joseph Sarafian have developed a method of pouring a concrete fibreglass mixture into fabric that is stretched out by programmed robotic arms.

Traditional casting methods are both labour intensive and unsustainable,they say.The method allows users to experiment with shape without having to cast a unique mould each time

They believe their method could provide the industry with a flexible tool for realising parametric design

Reseachers in Canada have also been developing flexible fabrics instead of conventional rigid forms for the production of concrete elements, offering significant reductions in material use and dead weight using flexible fabrics instead of conventional rigid molds. 

Mark West of the lafargeholcim-foundation has just published a book on “The Fabric Formwork Book: Methods for Building New Architectural and Structural Forms in Concrete”.

It is the first comprehensive handbook on the emerging technology of flexible moulds for reinforced concrete architecture.

West is the inventor of many fabric-formed concrete techniques for architecture and engineering structures and won a LafargeHolcim Awards Bronze in 2005 for his “Material Reduction: Efficient Fabric-Formed Concrete” project that enables both substantial materials and cost savings together with rich aesthetic possibilities.

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June 16, 2017
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