Resistant Shape Distilling architectural ideas
...thinking about nature, I wondered if it could somehow be transformed into architecture...
...thinking about nature, I wondered if it could somehow be transformed into architecture...
Within the natural world, everything is based on curved lines. Curvatures allow the elements to sustain themselves and resist in the best possible shape.
Wherever we look, any natural element we see is the result of slow changes, which have determined a shape that is both simple and effectively resistant.
Like nature, architecture should follow this expressive logic, too.
Vitruvius identified three fundamental categories for architecture to suit: firmitas (strenght), utilitas (function) and venustas (beauty).
When forms are resistant and architecture is based on resistant shapes, architecture itself shows its most interesting similarities with the situations that we find in nature.
Observing nature ...
This ice cave is similar to an arch, which sustains itself from its ends.
Many little dome-shaped membranes support the spiral structure of the nautilus.
The curved head of the femur supports the pelvic girdle.
Architects of the past and the present have dealt with this theme ... some significant examples are described below.
The Church is a fluid and enveloping environment, consisting of a single nave with a rectangular plant (16 x 30 meters).
For this building, Dieste plans a double vaulted ceiling. A solution which combines a curvilinear vault with a generating arch. The result is a self-supporting structure that, thanks to its geometric design, absorbs the weights and neutralizes them at the inflection points.
This solution guarantees large arch spans with relatively thin architectural elements and generates resistant three-dimensional surfaces. The solution is even more impressive when one considers that its implementation involves the use of bricks instead of reinforced concrete. The joints between the brick elements have a metal reinforcement and are filled with mortar made of sand and Portland cement. The covering surface is then completed with spray sand and lightly reinforced concrete.
Dieste reinvented the application of an ancient constructive method through the adoption of the double vaulted ceiling. The sense of a traditional massive and captivating building was thus reconciled with an innovative and extremely versatile design solution.
The museum, study center and auditorium areas are identified in three distinct sectors, which are formally identified through the curves of the laminated timber used in the structure. These areas are actually developed at basement level, in order to obtain better isolation and insulation conditions, but they are visible from the outside thanks to a specific architectural choice.
There is a dialogue between architecture - i.e. the building process - and its surroundings, which highlights an important continuity with the natural landscape. The three curves that form the building are integrated in the outline of the surrounding hills and in their spatial, progressively intermingling development. And where the closed sinusoid does no longer sustain the structure, the ground itself provides the necessary support for the building, confirming the continuity between architecture and nature.
The contemporary architecture of our cities, however, does not always conform to the resistant shape principle.
The scenic effect of the work, together with its visibility and innovation, are often the main objectives. The external shape thus becomes more important than the supporting structure principles. The final result is often admirable and noteworthy, but it still lacks the structural "truth" that connects shape and the most intimate nature of its structure. The moral and material bond that connects architecture with its aesthetic value is inevitably lost. And so is also the equal dignity that should exist between form and structure.
The "Contrà Soarda" winery is located on the hills surrounding the charming town of Bassano del Grappa, Italy.
The project, which began in 1999, involved the agricultural settlement, the vineyard planting phase, the construction of the winery and ancillary rooms (tasting, outbuildings) and the farmhouse renovation, which is still in progress.
The design was inspired by the concept of the traditional agricultural village and, at the same time, introduced formal aspects and innovative technologies, in order to achieve innovative and modern solutions.
In the designer's intentions, the winery was imagined as a basement construction, only partially visible from the outside and with a favourable microclimate inside.
The plan, design and construction of the barrel room described below is a perfect example of "resistant shape".
The barrel room is the heart of the company, the place where quality wine is produced and where visitors have the opportunity to appreciate its excellence.
A preliminary study was carried out, in order to assess the structural, formal and geometric aspects of the project.
The structural constraints were a very important parameter in the design of the building. It was in fact necessary to support unusual vertical loads (up to 10.000 kg/sqm) and contain the significant lateral soil pressure.
The design approach was to create some rigid boxes, consisting of walls and floors placed at different levels, in addition to an archway ceiling in the barrel room itself.
If, on the one hand, some extraordinary solutions could be achieved from the formal and aesthetic point of view; on the other hand, this idea guaranteed the possibility of exploiting the resistant shape of the whole building rather than the mono-directional resistance of a single architectural element.
The barrel room consists of a main room (9 X 12 m), six niches on the sides of the room (1,5 X 3,2 m) and a slant area (about 7,5 m deep) which allows the room to "extend" inside the mountain, so that rocks form one of the walls.
Thanks to the double vaulted ceiling, the roof structure combines an arc and a sinusoidal curve enclosed in each other. The wave pitch is 4 meters, the arc span is 9 meters. These measurements determine the position of the niches and of the spiral staircase and the overall structure of the production area. In this way, formal and static needs are combined, especially in order to transfer the structure weight from the vaulted ceiling abutment to the ground.
The spatial distribution of the double curvature determined the dimension of the sinusoidal curves. Again, it was necessary to take into account both formal (the elegance of a more or less marked pattern) and static aspects (the different effects due to the forces acting on the arc abutments).
Different studies on the most suitable static conditions proved that the rise had to correspond to 200 cm. In addition, for aesthetic reasons, the generating arch was designed with a height of 200 - 270 cm from the floor to the impost, 400 - 475 cm from the floor to the keystone brick.
An important aspect in the archway implementation consisted in the choice of the construction material: it had to be able to withstand the stress induced by the building shape and, of course, an element of aesthetic interest. Stone walls seemed a very interesting solution both from the construction and aesthetic point of view, and it was decided to use grey and pink limestone blocks in the size of about one cubic meter.
The blocks were cut into slabs using drills and steel wedges. The rough finishing was obtained with hammers and chisels; then the stone was hewn, carved and hammered until it was ready for laying.
Before this phase, a vaulted ceiling model was created in order to identify a precise method of installation. It would otherwise have been possible to assess the project result only after the work was complete, when it would be no longer possible to change it.
The width, type of processing and margins of the stone layers were therefore carefully planned; that way it was possible to prepare blocks of different sizes in order to achieve the intended result. .
It was necessary to build the three main vaulted ceilings simultaneously, both because of static reasons during formwork removal and because of the need to guarantee visual continuity in vaulted ceilings joints; these locations are, in fact, places where the material can have unpleasant discontinuities.
The formwork consisted of high-density polystyrene supported by suitable timberings.
The formwork was produced by a local craftsman and divided into blocks in order to be produced and transported. It was later reassembled on site.
The small stone blocks were laid by a skilled local master builder and his young co-worker. Each stone was chosen "to measure", texturized with a hammer and laid with a special mortar, mixed with yellowish sand. Although visible, the joint thus harmonized with the stone surface.
After positioning the steel reinforcing bars, a 20 cm thick concrete layer was cast, in order to complete the three major vaulted ceilings.
The formwork had, in part, to be re-used to complete the construction in the slant area and so, a week later, the structure was disassembled and placed in site.
To allow a smooth flow of rainwater, the extrados of the vaulted ceilings were levelled with lightweight concrete. The roof was then insulated with the formwork polystyrene, which was cut into slabs. Finally, the vaulted ceilings area was covered with a surface layer of soil.
After completion, the calculations and technology gave way to emotion and satisfaction for such a perfect result from the point of view of form, structure and balance. All of this is a synonym of "resistant form".
(from the project report)
"Contrà Soarda" Winery, ITALY, 36061 Bassano Del Grappa (VI)
Designer: Henry Zilio, architect and engineer
Henry Zilio was born in 1956 in Maracay, Venezuela.
He graduated in engineering in Padua (Italy) in 1980 and in architecture in Venice (Italy) in 2000. Since 1983, he has been coordinating an architectural, structural, urbanistic and infrastructural planning studio in Bassano del Grappa (Vi). The studio is characterized by the spirit of a multidisciplinary research and experimentation workshop, where specialists in various fields co-operate with skilled local artisans.