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August 11, 2016

AT FIRST GLANCE THIS MIGHT SEEM LIKE A RIDICULOUS QUESTION, WE ALL KNOW THAT WHEN YOU BUILD ANYTHING, SOME SORT OF ‘GLUE’ IS USUALLY NEEDED TO HOLD THINGS TOGETHER. TODAY WE RECOGNISE THIS ‘GLUE’ AS CONCRETE, OR IN MORE ANCIENT BUILDING METHODS THEIR GLUE WOULD HAVE BEEN A MIXTURE OF ANIMAL DUNG AND MUD, BUT CAN YOU BUILD WITHOUT IT?

I’m sure most of us think, yes, we’ve all built small square or rectangular buildings from Lego, but can we build larger, architecturally beautiful buildings, with curves and bends, without something to stick it all together?

The answer is yes!

In this blog post we are going to look into one method of building with no ‘glue’ that uses compression to hold incredible structures together.

THE ARMADILLO VAULT

The Armadillo Vault was constructed specifically to showcase the engineering behind building with no ‘glue’. Constructed by ETH Zurich researchers for the Venice Biennale exhibition, this beautiful structure is built from slabs of limestone, held together solely through compression.

The Armadillo Vault

Some of these beautiful limestone slabs are as large as 16 metres long and only 5 centimetres thick. If we compare this to an eggshell, it is half the thickness proportionally, which makes this an even more interesting piece of engineering.

“Without any glue or mortar, with perfectly dry connections, this is really a milestone for stone engineering,” explained Philippe Block, who runs Block Research Group with Tom Van Mele.

This structure beautifully demonstrates how compressive forces affect architectural structures which means that buildings can be built without the need for steel, making them more sustainable and potentially more beautiful.

However, it is worth noting that we’re unlikely to see structures like this popping up, that have been made of limestone. Limestone is one of the most difficult materials to build with structurally (which makes this even more of an achievement!) This was done on purpose however, in order to show how optimised geometrics make it possible to build truly ambitious structures with limited, or less than perfect resources.

“We’re showing a new way of designing where you understand the constraints, so that you’re not just focusing on geometry but on the relationship between geometry and forces.”

The Armadillo Vault

We think that The Armadillo Vault is not only a structural engineering masterpiece but it is also a stunning piece of design.

Could using compression be the future for sustainable building? We don’t think we’ll be skipping the cement mixers any time soon, but to know that projects like this are happening across the world is very exciting.