Age-old technique enhanced by computer modeling





A joint project between EPFL’s Geometric Computing Laboratory and a British artist has resulted in an impressive structure made out of woven bamboo. It will be on display at the SG building on EPFL’s Lausanne campus from 22 to 29 September.

Take a few bamboo stems, split them into six slats each, add a dash of computer modeling, and BamX! – you get an ultra-lightweight pavilion that is not only surprisingly solid but can also be folded up for easy transport.

BamX is the name of this ingenious structure made through a combination of EPFL’s innovative technology and the age-old practice of bamboo weaving. It measures 10 meters in diameter and 4.5 meters high and will be installed in the main hall of the SG building.

The project is being spearheaded by Mark Pauly, the head of EPFL’s Geometric Computing Laboratory. His research team, led by Seiichi Suzuki, has developed algorithms that can calculate the exact point where the bamboo slats should be crossed in order to achieve maximum strength in the final structure. Based on the designs generated by the algorithms, builders just need to screw the slats together or join them using plant-based ties. “We didn’t invent the technique of using woven bamboo to make pavilions,” says Pauly. “But with our computer models, we can simulate complex designs and conduct virtual stress tests – taking the technique to a whole new level.” Thanks to the modelling process, forms and structures never tried so far can now be imagined.

The woven columns used in the structure are patterned after the work done by Alison Grace Martin, a British artist who designs glued-cardboard sculptures using the same approach. That’s where Pauly and his colleagues got their inspiration for BamX – and she’s also the one who grew the bamboo they used, in her garden in Italy. The design of the pavilion also owes to professors Jan Knippers, from Stuttgart University, and Stefana Parascho, from EPFL’s Laboratory of creative computation (ENAC School).

Pauly hopes that the pavilion unveiled this month will become a permanent feature of the Lausanne campus. But more importantly, this project forms part of a broader push to develop new, more sustainable approaches to architecture. “I think it’d be great if we could plant a bamboo grove on the EPFL campus,” he says. “Architecture students could use the wood – along with our computer models or other methods yet to be developed – to design and build their own locally sourced, carbon-negative structures.”




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