Designing lightweight structures starts on the level of composing materials on the scale of millimetres or smaller, nanometres if it makes sense. The composition depends on properties that need to be brought together. There have been quite a few experiments by interns and students. Mostly they relate to a generic idea of lightweight building, by investigating wire and strut combinations and fixing them with plaster, or glue.
As a DRS22 intern textile designer Caroline Lindo, let plaster drain while it hung in spanned textile thickness, thereby making gravity determine shape and thickness. There is a similarity with the way Antonio Gaudi hung structures upside down to discover structural form.
During the Building Lightness project 10 designers experimented with different existing composed materials, ranging from honeycomb cardboard to glass fibre reinforced polymers, and from woven polypropylene to Styrofoam. The most promising principles are explored further.
They concern skin materials, such as textiles, foils and sheet metal. These can be used to deal with tension forces. The other kind of materials being researched is of course the stuff inside the skin, which could be either oil related, or renewable foams.
Within the Building Lightness project Bertjan Pot came up with the idea to inflate stitched textile mattress shapes with PUR foam within a matching truss to create walls. A less harmful combination with considerable potential may very well be a renewable textile filled with wood chip foam, the kind that designer Marjan van Aubel has been working with.
Ingredients of lightweight structures may be quite expensive per unit weight, but you need less of them. Costs depend on effort, tooling and raw materials. Lightness has different implications everywhere. In Europe labour, machinery and materials are expensive. It makes sense then to look for making procedures in which few people can achieve a lot with smart cheap tools.
Materials used for tests are not likely to be identical to the ones that will constitute the final structure. Exploring in models differs from actual construction. Materials such as PUR, epoxy resin and textile with vivid patterns simply are easy to come by. It is an interesting challenge to keep track of the difference between small scale and real scale experimenting and making. There is a link, however. Principles that are tried in small models, provide information on the real thing.
The disadvantage of material research that is not aimed at a precisely defined function, is that it is rather difficult to involve partners. This is the main reason why in this stage our attention is focused on the design of the house as an object of use.