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structural prototypes from seashells We are given an area which is to be covered, a space which is to be enclosed. We know the move- ment conditions of the external forces. If we set ourselves the task of sustaining these forces, by transferring the reactions to the supports in a simple manner by using the space-enclosing surface itself to carry the load ... this is a general, but, finally, the only interesting problem. Bernard Lafaille’ ‘One of the most dificult pedagogical problems in architectural studio instruction is the integration of structural thinking with other design issues, Far the student, the cancemns of basic form making usually eclipse any sophisticated investigation into str ture Asa result students often revert to “standard” structural sysems (for example, portal or space frames) by dfaul. Yet, even shen a studi Focuses specifically on structural issues, a gap can exist, between the invention of structurally interesting farm (form making) and the verification of that Form using statics a a means of analysis. Some times, structural understanding does not develop beyond adopting the visual manifestation of 2 steuctural ster, To actress this pedagogical dtfiulty, an experimental design studio at the National Univer sity of Singapore (NUS) focused an the study of natural form as a basis fr generating architectural structures. The experiment started with an interest- ing premise: rather than beginning with architectural tr structural precedents in building, students instead studied che natural forms of seashells, This lead to to results: a sculptural interpretation related to structural metaphor, and a stucturo) interpretation related to a theoretical understanding ‘of surface structure, Moreover, two dynamic atte- tutes of lving malluscs influenced these interpreta tions the growth of their shells and the motor abl- tis ofthese animals and thelr organs. The studio consisted of sixteen second-year undergraduate students who had competed Foun dation modules inthe theory of structures and architectural design. Undergraduate students at NUS, an RIBA-accredited program, must demon strate the ality to integrate knowledge of building onstruction and structural principles in relation to wider concerns of human need, the natural world, and the consiceration of 2 sustainable environment ‘The curriculum requites second-year students to be able to design structural solutions that can crea- twely respond ta wider issues in architecture The studio began with a primer on the nature ‘of seashells that began with the classification sys- ‘ter used in conchology. Molluscs are categorized according to principal features suchas their shape and surface morphology, an thelr feeding, respira~ toy, reproductive, and growth systems, Of specific interest to the studio was the fact that mollusc shells grow accretively with minute calcium cerbon- ate deposits placed in pattems and at thicknesses 1 achieve maximum shel strength and rig Folds, ribs, and spr, which resist oth internal and external forces, seve ta stengthen the shells structure along its surface, These structural strate ies gave the students clues as to how their designs ould be strengthened in subsequent stages of “prototype” development inthe studio exercise. na second primes, students studi the theory of sur face stuctures to understand the Forn-atrength relationships in buildings. The students ther explored the similarities in the structural ction of bulleing surface structures and those in natural sea- shells while also noting their cifferences. In addition to the students studying shell structure and growth, they were attentive ta bio- logical mechanisms that enable the movement of various pats of the organism. Students savy that ‘these mechanisms —by virtue oftheir bility to reg ulate porosity to light, water, and air orto protect, the animal from harsh environmental elements — had the potential tobe translated into other archi tectual features, such a the enclosure of a build- ing, Moving pars ofthe organism were also analogous to fewible building components, which ‘might allow for programmatic Hex “The woiks of D'Arcy Thomson and Frei Otto were used as references For nature's strategies in achieving strength in rigid tissue forms” Robert Le Ricoais’ documentation of his experimental research workshop at the University of Pennsyvaniaeluci- dates how analogical thinking advances structural ingenuity inthe design process * Fred Angerer’s investigation into surface structures demonstrates that conceptual analogy can be linked with techn cal strategy inthe structural articulation of load bearing surface form All four authors explore the concept f minimum materal for maximum strength and the relationship of geometric patterns to highly effective Forms that resist compression and bending forces. These texts pioneer the ways in which sur face structures might define space using a space- ‘enclosing surface asthe load-bearing element, In the Fst ahase of the stuco, students were asked to select one typeof shell for study on an individual bass. They each identified a significant geometric patter in the shell structure that might reveal the resistance of compressive forces. Some ‘students aso looked fora biological characteristic of @ mollusc entaling mechanical action or move ment, The students then created an abstract ana Jogue inthe form ofa structural macel that related space and form to load or movement, 2 derived from each of their seashells These structural models specifically ‘explored abstract geometries relating xchitectural form to seashell chara teristics in provisional way. In 2estracting an analogue from the nat ural form ofthe seashels, the studio projects searched fora connection between pattem and structural action i seashells elated tothe overall con~ figuration of the seashell and the fod ing pattems onthe shell surface. In the second phase, subsequent developmental models were developed 2d tested for structural and mechani cal action and forthe ability ofthese ‘properties to change and to qualify space. Using live loads, each mode! nas tested t its carying capacity before bucking, Attributes of the ‘model (for example, the direction of folds in relation to the dvection of forces) could then be modified and retested for improved strength. These developmental models eventually ed ta “prototypes” or architectural ele- ‘ments that would have the poten tial—outsde the immediate aims of the stucio—to be incorporated into @ real site and 2 real program. Innovation in form making, and structural efficiency, were the main c= tera forthe evaluation ofthe proto- types. Lightweight prototypes that were best able to maximize rigidity ‘and resist buckling under loading were Considered to be the most successful ‘The students ntukive and theoretical understanding of the structural form was abo carefully assessed, Other cri- teria were considered as well. For instance, the degre to which struc tural action advantaged architectural space while maintaining 2 formal refer- fence tothe originating seashell was important. Similar, the extent to hich this form geometrically Increased the stability and strength of the prototypes was of equal signf- cance, The sculptural quality of the prototype was abo an aesthetic that was evaluated for its ability to define architectural space The Students’ Prototypes Students selected four classes of sea shel the taxonomy of mole: Gastopodsingle-hel creature), bivalves (double-shel creatures), poly placophorae(hels made of seq- mented plates), and cephalopods p- ‘al shel with internal chambers) CLASS cASTROPODA Castropods comprise 75 percent of the wort’ molluscs with haf the species being maine. Most gastropods are highly mobile creatures with smal eyes, tentacles, mantle, and a broad fiat foot, The gill, stomach, and heart ofthe creature are contained ina sin- gular, coiled, hard shel, The shel grows in a spite along one axsin all Variations of this clas (Figuee 1) ‘The Sunburst Star Shell. The sun- burst star shell has the form ofa fet tened spire with a distinct omamenta tion in its structure; te cantilever “starburst” protrusion acts as 3 trans- verse stiffener along its spiral form (igure 4) Inthe abstract analogical model, the facade i an unraveling of the spi ‘a wth itermitent ribs transverse to the line of material growth (Figues 2 and 3). In the study process, the stu Gent began with curved surface ele- ments and then proceeded to identify mes and edges in an interim model (Figure 5) before developing platebke folds to stiffen the freestanding “all” The steeper the individual folds, the mare stable the folded wal, “The test model ilustrated in Fig tute 6 demonstrates the possibilty that Src Prtotnesm She 20