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Guastavino vaulting is a passion of John Ochsendorf's. He, his research assistant Philippe Block, and former student Michael Ramage used it to design spaces for South Africa's Mapungubwe National Park Interpretive Centre.

The structural masonry technique also helps form the basis of thrust network analysis, a methodology he and Block are developing for creating compression-only surfaces.

The Mapungubwe National Park Interpretive Centre is sustainable in many ways. Among them: (1) The vaults are composed of locally made stabilized earth tiles and designed to be structurally sound with a minimum use of material and at the lowest cost possible; (2) the tiles' high thermal mass passively cools spaces and radiates heat at night; (3) as part of the project's Poverty Relief Program, the structures are being built by locals trained in a masonry technique that is quickly and easily learned.

The Interpretive Centre makes extensive use of vaulted spaces. The structures’ shapes take their inspiration from the hilly surrounding landscape—the park is located at South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe and Botswana, on the Limpopo River—and the local culture.

Now being used to create a compression-only stone masonry pavilion in Texas, thrust network analysis allows designers to see how the internal forces of a particular three-dimensional shape are distributed. The thickness of the tubes in the computer model represents compression loads.

John Ochsendorf (B.S., Cornell, 1996; M.S., Princeton, 1998; Ph.D., Cambridge, 2002) received a MacArthur grant in September-the first one given to an MIT architecture school professor. Last year he was the first engineer to be awarded a Rome Prize by the American Academy in Rome.

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