1.2 Membranes and Transformable Frames

Jaap Baselmans – Membrane Spaces Studio @ Rotterdam Academy of Architecture and Urban Design, 2005

Although form-finding methods use elastic membranes, membranes with low elasticity are used for full-scale constructions. Low-elasticity membranes are pre-tensioned, much like a drum skin, in order to be able to bear loads. If, however, the requirements were such that elastic membranes could be used it would be possible to change their configurations into multiple stable states. In other words, elastic membranes are shape adaptable for as long as they are shaped by equal tension into minimal surfaces when the bearing points are displaced. This would introduce form-active systems to a full construction scale. In order to pursue this possibility, a set of initial experiments was aimed at establishing membrane and frame relations in which a multitude of stable states can be achieved. Subsequent experiments involved the frame in the kinetic set-up. The frame, too, became reconfigurable, with the degree and direction of movability being informed by the vectors of displacement of the bearing points of the membranes. Calibrating the movement of membrane and frame so that equal tension was retained in all membrane patches included establishing the relationship between the membrane boundary points on the frame, the locations of the joints and the axes and extent of rotational movement. Once this was accomplished it was possible to model these relations in an associative parametric modelling environment and to digitally analyse the performative capacity of different stable states. A scaled prototype for an adaptable membrane canopy concluded the research.

Tutors: Michael Hensel and Achim Menges – OCEAN
Digital Modelling Workshop: Pavlos Sideris
Digital Dynamic Relaxation Support: David Rutten
Invited Critics: Ludo Grooteman, Eva Menges – OCEAN, David Rutten, Pavlos Sideris, Nikolaos Stathopoulos – Buro Happold, Peter Trummer
Student: Jaap Baselmans


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  • March 2009
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