Investigations into bio-based design continue to produce provocative results. In a project called Augmented Skin, M.Arch students at University College London’s Bartlett School demonstrated a hybrid structural fabrication process using a lightweight wood frame and fabric-cast concrete.
To make the skin, the team created structural components by joining wood sticks, wrapping them in elastic fabric, and coating them with latex paint for additional rigidity. They then poured a mix of plaster and concrete into the fabric mold, resulting in a wood-reinforced concrete module.
The designers created a variety of large structures using the method, including an interior arch and a chair, aided by a mix of hands-on material research and sophisticated computer modeling. The resulting objects resemble a tangle of arthropod limbs. This novel design language is born out of two design logics—which the team calls strand and skin—wherein the strand emulates skeletal structures and the skin creates a unifying surface.
Although other designers have fabricated similarly striking biomimetic designs at small sizes using digital printing methods, Augmented Skin is notable for both its adaptable scale and its ability to be produced using manual techniques. The Bartlett students’ research therefore makes an important contribution to building construction knowledge, and it presages a future in which architectural structure and cladding—like our own skin and bones—form a more intimate relationship.
Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.