A Flowing Catenary Carpet in Brick!


by Ar.Senthil KumarDoss,Play Architects ,Bangalore and Ar.Utsav Mathur,Infinity & Beyond Building Solutions,Bangalore.

Geometry and Architecture……The romance has ever existed since their emergence as a discipline and has been travelling symbiotically across various region, religion, culture, language and style ! Every ‘ism’ in Art and Architecture adopted geometry by its merits and created expressions which argued well for its context and time.

Nature and its laws are probably the only constants other than Change !

A look alike but not exactly a Parabola, Catenary holds its position closer to an Architect’s mind for centuries, constantly reminding us on the laws of gravity. A simple hanging chain explains it all as the inverse becomes the most stable form, generating arches and vaults.Few liberated minds ventured in to even studying hanging cloth and partially succeeded in generating 3D surfaces in equilibrium.

An inquisitive mind popped up many questions ! A catenary ? What happens when I hang a long and a longer chain, what happens when a chain of different material is suspended, what will be the result if we connect varying catenaries, do these connections also result in catenaries or does it result in a geometry different in nature, can these varying catenaries be made in to a system or series for Architects to work around with ? Does physics or mathematics already has an answer? Is modern day computational techniques any helpful in answering these ? How do we understand and address compression and tension in such structures ?

This workshop was envisioned as a collaborative exercise with people from varied disciplines would contribute to the search, a direct platform for the students to find these answers as we set out to marking 2 sets of catenary curves one with a varying chain length and two with a fixed chain length. The results were plotted manually and was drawn to scale to be used as a system for various design applications. The curves achieved where then allowed to move along various geometrical path in plan and physical models were made to record the findings. Sketches of various possibilities were generated to enable the student to understand the dynamics of a system/ rule in a design process. Simultaneously students were exposed to the practical aspects of Catenary through a presentation from experienced structural engineer/ Architect.

The second phase was ambitious as we extended the findings of the first phase in to a computational format. Designing, modelling and testing/analysing through advanced softwares like Rhino and its associated plugins like Grasshopper, Kangaroo and Karamba were introduced to students in the form of presentations and demonstrations by a professional following which the students had to work in teams to develop the 3D models of the design belonging to the group.

As we progressed, interesting findings have moved us to a direction to apply a catenary and its inverse in combination forming a section which is sinusoidal in nature. The sections when relaxed using physics engine resulted in an optimised 3D form which were catenary in nature.

Traditional flat bricks were chosen as a material medium addressing use of local materials and its versatility to be used in Timbrel vaulting. A small 3D module using the sections were then developed for a quick realtime mock up.

The next stages of the workshop would venture in to bringing in a program to facilitate a small student activity centre moving partially above and below the ground negotiating various forces just by its form ideally eliminating conventional building/ structural components of footing, columns, beams and slabs and creating a seamless flowing carpet with Bricks !

Day 1-making physical models of catenary curves with cane and combining them into a shell form

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