Mind & Matter


In Search of Lightness

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Metal sheet with double-curvature. Rendering by John Gould.


One of the enduring themes related to building structures is the balance between material resources and performance. While there are many possible approaches to structuring a building, the strategy of achieving the greatest functionality with the least amount of material is a common theme that operates at many scales. Facade cladding components such as metal panels, for example, are increasingly scrutinized in terms of material efficiency, although good structural performance often requires a thicker gauge material.

A collection of recent technologies holds promise for seekers of enhanced strength-to-weight ratios. Milgo/Bufkin’s AlgoRhythms and XURF Systems technologies allow for complex transformations of flat sheet materials—allowing for controlled flexibility and compound curvature, in addition to enhanced mechanical properties. John Gould’s Formtexx process also allows the realization of double curvature panels with only 0.7 mm thick material. These methods capitalize on processes developed by the automotive industry to reduce weight while maintaining a high level of precision. Perhaps these innovations can help us realize Bucky Fuller’s dream of achieving a lighter footprint.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.