FattyShell (v.01) by Kyle Sturgeon, Chris Holzwart and Kelly Raczkowski


Here's another student project that involves filling stitched structures with concrete (see Grompies by AA students in our earlier story), this time by architecture students Kyle A. Sturgeon, Chris Holzwart and Kelly Raczkowski from the University of Michigan. Update: this project is included in Dezeen Book of Ideas, which is on sale now for £12.

The team created this structure by pouring concrete between two sheets of rubber that have been stitched together.

Called FattyShell (v.01), the two rubber patterns were stitched together, attached to a wood frame and tensioned at certain parts with cables.

A cement-based concrete was then poured between the sheets at 3 hourly intervals.

Plywood discs were attached to the rubber surface in order to control thickness.

The rubber sheets were then cut away, leaving the concrete structure with impressions of the stitching and seams.

The project was completed with instructors Dave Pigram of Supermanoeuvre and Wes McGee of MatterDesign.

Here's some more information about the project from the students:

We're a 3 person team operating in the digital fabrication and algorithmic design concentrations at the University of Michigan. This past semester, we undertook a pretty exciting project.

Above: 45 epdm rubber patterns cut from an unrolled geometry with a robotic arm, vacuum table and rotary tool attachment

FattyShell (v.01) is a project rooted in materials research and applications for new methods of elastic formwork casting derived from minimal surface algorithmic geometries.

Above: exterior membrane. patterned to match the exact profile of the interior membrane, with holes removed for sleeve seam locations.

The elasticity of the rubber and the locations of the sewing allows the concrete thickness to expand or contract in certain areas of the design, redefining its structural composition and integrity in real time.

Above: the two patterned membranes of rubber are sewn together on an industrial sewing machine

Research performed by Masters of Architecture students at the University of Michigan W10.

Above: formwork attached to plywood ribs is tensioned using steel cable at vector locations. a 1-ton crank holds the top plate and adds tension after the first lift.

Above: fiber reinforced high cement based concrete is prepared in 12 batches at 265 lbs (3,200 lbs at completion). lifts occur at 3 hour intervals. At each lift, concrete is sculpted, transferred, or blocked from its gravitational destination in order to reinforce weaker moments in the shell's composition.

Above: pouring locations were accessed by opening seams and then restitched after lift levels reached the opening.

Above: additional plywood disks to control thickness and to reduce the thermal mass of the wall. (concrete began to heat at temperatures well above 120 degrees Fahrenheit)

Above: vector cables are untensioned and formwork is removed with utility knives

Above: all formwork was removed and the wall remained free standing except for one point of reinforcement

Above: with formwork removed off, the shell takes on reef-like depth and a thin-ness accentuated by the ripples left from less minimalized areas of the membrane. Stitches, seams, and lift registrations define further the character of the construction.

Above: the bubbling effect in this column indexes each lift, similar to that of rings in a tree trunk.

See also:


Grompies Concrete Chair by Tejo Remy & René Veenhuizen Concrete Cloth by
Concrete Canvas

Posted on Wednesday May 19th 2010 at 10:46 am by Catherine Warmann. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Rachael

    It looks like a lot of hard work, but for what? What’s the purpose of this construction? It looks like a prop out of a Henry Selick animation.

  • Natalie

    What are you talking about, Rachel? It’s Art.

    It’s beautiful, nice work guys. :)

  • Sascrotch

    The point is to investigate new techniques for form and massing. To experiment with various materials and geometries for strength, endurance, aesthetics, permeability, etc.

    Don’t worry though, there are plenty of boxes out there for you.

  • thank you guys, for producing something great—showing us how you built it—and not talking about the computer modeling work behind it.

  • Fantastic! Maybe the best iteration of “concrete cast in stretchy thing” yet. And it’s real, not a rendering! They did it! I could see this aesthetic and technique really taking off as they streamline it.

  • gaque

    The technique is far more interesting than the form. I would have chosen perhaps another relatively new language to materialize, instead of this reticular subdiv stuff.

    I’m curious to learn more about how the robot cut out the pattern? Did it cut the entire thing as one piece?

    Suppose you wanted to make a building using this technique——-that’s a lot of labor!

    I don’t understand the logic of using digital fabrication for one component, but doing the rest tediously by hand and analog construction.

    Could you have used a thicker, more rigid fabric to possibly create a smoother end result? The seams and creases of the final form are pretty distracting.

    Overall, a worthwhile experiment, I hope to see what you guys do next.

  • j

    think they should leave the rubber on, much cooler that way

  • Future B

    I can see a new future of slip forming concrete super structures. Check this scenario! A robotic weaving head on a gantry actually weaves a fabric type composite upward (fattyshell rubber) as the concrete is poured in. No plywood no labour and intricate organic structures.

    Its ideas and experiments like FattyShell that can spark a revolution in process!!

  • Fantasmagoric !

  • Booh

    I just wanna say: Thank you for making American grad schools look cool. I can’t even count how many European schools have been posted on here… but American. Now we’re talkin’

    Go team!

  • mvb

    Well, this experiment would be very interesting for artists and sculptors, but it is not enough for future architects.
    Everybody knows the properties of concrete to adapt to any kind of formwork, but the aspiration of an architect should go further on.
    I do not care about the form they have designed, I am not criticizing it, in fact, I think it is very nice. The purpose is what matters me, but I can’t see any useful function except for the aesthetic.

  • Amazing! It’s wonderful to see something that has heart, soul, and the human hand.

  • Very nice achievement. It’s conceptual art worthy of an art gallery

  • Sloan Kulper

    Love it – I love the scale, the process, everything!

  • those curious to see the full application of this project, visit http://www.thelocallab.com/Kyle and click ReMarket Detroit, or FattyShell.

    thanks for all fo the comments.
    cheers, Kyle

  • El Grecus

    Interesting project. And while I like coverage of American universities on Dezeen, I have to give it to our neighbors to the north at the University of Manitoba who have long been doing elegant fabric formwork. Check out Mark West’s work. They’ve got some very nice projects at http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/architecture/cast/built_work/index.html.

    And Kenzo Unno’s refined quilt-point restraint method at http://www.umanitoba.ca/cast_building/assets/downloads/PDFS/Fabric_Formwork/Kenzo_Unno_Article.pdf

    Know your history… http://www.fabricforming.org/history.html

  • TW

    Yes it is a beautiful piece of art. But these students are architects students, not fine arts students.

    Universities around the world are churning out mediocre architects by the crate loads – I wish they would concentrate on the craft they are supposed to be learning instead.

  • Inspiring and gritty work guys. Love the Imperfections. congrats and keep pushing it!

  • BRian

    great work and effort (no doubt!)

    But as for American grad schools- YOU ARE FOLLOWERS!
    (except for Greg Lynn!) :)

    THis concept has been done in the late 60’s- early 70’s!

    I think the RCA or AA in London were doing this concept a lllloooonnnggg time ago.

    But great work!

  • Millie

    Fabulous- heart-and-soul- creative! Keep up the great work!

  • Any one using geosynthetic fabrics to form thin shell curvilinear concrete structures?

  • Michael Lowenthal

    I am currently doing a research paper on fabric formwork and concrete with the idea that experiments like this could lead to a actual construction methods for thin shell modules. Fabrics used today are lightweight and can be easily transported after fabrication to a location near a building site. This idea here may be the bridge I am looking for.