Amazing arches and domes built at Venice Architecture Bienale

© Designboom

The Venice Architecture Bienale opens on the 28 of May, and Designboom is getting a preview. One installation is a bit of a preview itself. We have covered Foster + Partners' designs for drone ports in Rwanda; now they have built a piece of it in Venice. Designboom writes:

Located at the end of the Arsenale, the pavilion serves as a symbolic gateway to the newly opened public park. the possibility of it remaining as a permanent structure is also under consideration. The color of the earth-based products is a careful match with the historic buildings which surround it. the prototype vault comprises two outer surfaces, with an inner layer of traditional tiles. Compared to traditional burnt clay bricks, the use of stabilized earth does not require intensive use of fuel to achieve its performance.

vault under construction venice photo© Foster + Partners
Looking at it under construction, it appears to be a classic timbrel vault made up of layers of laminated tiles. These vaults are incredibly strong and thin; as described by Kris de Decker, the technology "allowed for structures that today no architect would dare to build without steel reinforcements. The technique was cheap, fast, ecological and durable."


Americans will know them as Guastavino vaults, after the family that patented and built them, most notably in the Oyster Bar of Grand Central Station and the Boston public library.

cuba ballet schoolWikipedia/CC BY 2.0

In Cuba, they were used after the revolution because of the American embargo on portland cement and steel; Foster is evidently helping in the restoration of the ballet school there. They are a truly appropriate technology for places like Rwanda where there is lots of labour but not much money.

Now they are done with computers, cardboard forms and 3D routers. ETH Block Research Group, who did the small experimental design shown above, is also at the Bienale and shown in Designboom:

Unlike Foster's Timbrel vaults, this is most definitely not cheap and cheerful, made out of stone in Texas and shipped over.

The various elements – four prototypes of vaulted floor systems, a series of graphical force diagrams, and an expansive stone vault – demonstrate how architecture can learn from the building techniques of the past. The work asserts that aesthetics and the efficient use of resources are not mutually exclusive. Through the use of novel structural design approaches and digital fabrication methods, excess steel has been eliminated, allowing more humble materials — such as earth and stone — to take precedence.

Armadillo Vault at Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 from Block Research Group on Vimeo.

They may be old techniques, but Rafael Guastavino would barely recognize it in these videos, where it is resolved on the computer, cut by CNC routers, and laid up without reinforcement or any mortar, just relying on the compression of the arch, spanning over fifty feet. I do not know if I would have the nerve to stand under it. More in Designboom.

Amazing arches and domes built at Venice Architecture Bienale
Old techniques are born again with computers and CNC routers

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