The architectural kit of parts draws attention to one of twentieth century architecture’s most famous questions: How much does your building weigh? Buckminster Fuller and his acolytes obsessed over this question conceiving both building systems and components with the sole purpose of reducing the amount of material used to optimally cover architectural space. Geodesics and tensegrity elucidated this objective isolating the productive elements of a structural system and efficiently demonstrating a new architectural language from basic parts through geometry and physics. Cables and struts effectively assembled to demonstrate the inseparable functions of tension and compression in every structural system was the epitome of weight reduction.
The purpose of lightweight structures as developed throughout history was to transport architecture and shelter to any context. From the Yurt as the archetype of mobility to today’s deployable tents, the compressive frame held together by a tensile structure obsessed another of twentieth century’s structural masters, Frei Otto. Otto employed experimental modelling techniques. Empirically conceived soap film models and large scale weighted models allowed Otto to conceive and create his free-formed architecture in a time before computer modelling. While the German Pavilion he designed for Expo67, the Man and his world exhibiton in Montreal, is certainly his most famous work, the dance pavilion at Cologne (1957), is an emblem of his quest for simplicity in spanning fabric structures.
Not designed as architectural kit per se, the structure remains a testament to the very idea of mobility and lightness, as it is simply a frame and a covering stabilized by a network of tension and compression rings and cables. The PVC-coated fabric covering spreads out from a central tension ring in a star shaped hexagon pattern. A large compression ring at the base of the structure clamps the vertical masts and cables running from the mast to the ground stabilize the system. The basic principles of a type of catenary showcase the simple principles of how compression and tension relate to create a floating covering over a 33-meter span. Anchored to point foundations, the light structure floats over and covers a performance space. The cables, masts and fabric covering are the three basic components of Frei Otto’s hovering kit(e) architecture.
|Frei Otto's Dance Pavilion at Cologne (1957)|