This bizarre pavilion was inspired by an underwater spider! The ICD/ITKE at the University Stuttgart constructed its latest architectural research pavilion to reflect the aesthetics of one of nature’s master weavers. 


The Diving Bell spider is an architectural mastermind. Before you call me crazy, just hear me out. Like every other spider on Earth, Agyroneda aquatica must breathe air. But that’s tricky when the diving bell spider lives its entire life underwater.

But like all good designers, the diving bell spider is an adept problem-solver with an ingenious solution: It builds what amounts to a tiny oxygen tank. This tank, if you will, is an air bubble trapped in the spider’s silk. Its web is indeed shaped like a diving bell, spun among underwater vegetation. The spider makes periodic trips to the surface and pokes its abdomen out of the water, gathering air among hydrophobic hairs to form a bubble, which it deposits in the beautifully designed bell. It’s an impressive feat for human engineers, let alone a spider, one designers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design eagerly cribbed from.


Every year, the Institute for Computational Design and the school’s Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design tap their know-how to build an experimental pavilion that tests the boundaries of computational design and fabrication. This year, they riffed on the spider’s diving bell.

True to its inspiration, the pavilion resembles a glassy bubble streaked with web-like strands. It’s actually a plastic membrane essentially supported by layers of black carbon fiber composite material applied by a big robotic arm programmed to mimic the spider.

“The web construction process of water spiders was examined and the underlying behavioral patterns and design rules were analyzed, abstracted and transferred into a technological fabrication process,” says Achim Menges, the head of the Institute of Computational Design. In other words, the robotic arm, like the spider, senses where the membrane is most vulnerable and deposits fibers accordingly, using just enough pressure to do the job without penetrating it.


Wet carbon fiber is essentially glued to the inflated membrane, which, like a balloon in the wind, is constantly in flux. As the membrane changes shape, the robot adapts its approach as needed. “The rules are determined, but the final shape is not,” says Menges. Once the carbon fiber scaffolding was in place, the membrane (which was inflated by air pressure) was deflated to become a “skin” stretched over the composite framework.

This is remarkable from a technical standpoint, of course. If we can construct buildings that react to real-time conditions, we can effectively remove the need for tolerances that architects design into buildings to account for changes that may or may not happen. “The machine knows what’s happening in real time,” says Menges. “There’s no deviation from the expected situation and actual situation.”

But it’s also the mark of a totally new aesthetic language. Despite programming the robot with rules and parameters, there’s no real way to know how a building will turn out when you take this approach. In that way, the form is almost evolutionary. It’s a lot more like nature, and that’s a lot more exciting.’


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(Image/Text Sources: www.wired.com; www.awesomeinventions.com)