Robotically fabricated carbon-fibre pavilion opens at the V&A

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Robotically fabricated carbon-fibre pavilion opens at the V&A

A robotically woven carbon-fibre pavilion developed by a team from the University of Stuttgart has been erected in the courtyard of London's V&A museum as part of a season of engineering events (+ slideshow).

Elytra Filament Pavilion by Achim Menges for the V&A Museum is modelled on flying beetle wings

The Elytra Filament Pavilion comprises 40 unique hexagonal components that have been robotically fabricated from a combination of transparent glass fibre and black carbon fibre.

The web-like design of each component is based on the fibrous structure of beetle's forewings – named elytra.

The pavilion is designed and produced by architect and researcher Achim Menges, in collaboration with architect Moritz Dörstelmann, structural engineer Jan Knippers and climate engineer Thomas Auer.

Elytra Filament Pavilion by Achim Menges for the V&A Museum is modelled on flying beetle wings

It forms part of an ongoing research project looking at biomimicry in design by the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Computational Design – directed by Menges – and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design – led by Knippers.

"This is a live research project," said Achim Menges at the opening of the pavilion today. "One of the most exciting materials we've found are fibre-reinforced plastics – it's also interesting to see that nature also uses fibrous composites."

Elytra Filament Pavilion by Achim Menges for the V&A Museum is modelled on flying beetle wings

"This is very much a showcase of how design and engineering come together," he added, claiming that developments in digital design and robotic construction are transforming the field of engineering.

"I think we're experiencing another paradigm shift, a fourth industrial revolution."

Elytra Filament Pavilion by Achim Menges for the V&A Museum is modelled on flying beetle wings

Each piece of the 200-square-metre structure, which is supported by funnel-shaped legs, is formed by a single length of resin-coated fibre and weighs just 45 kilograms.

The glass and carbon fibre is wound around metal formwork by a robotic arm, before being cured to form the rigid hexagonal elements.

Elytra Filament Pavilion by Achim Menges for the V&A Museum is modelled on flying beetle wings

An on-site robotic contained within a transparent membrane will produce new elements of the pavilion throughout the show, which will run until 6 November 2016.

The placement of these pieces will be determined by data collected by fibre optic sensors embedded in the canopy's glass fibres, Dörstelmann told Dezeen, and will see the pavilion sprawl across the courtyard.

Elytra Filament Pavilion by Achim Menges for the V&A Museum is modelled on flying beetle wings

The scale of each segment is determined not by the limits of the material, but by the narrow doors of the historic V&A building.

But the team believes the material could be used to produce much larger spanning structures.

Menges previously told Dezeen that carbon fibre is architecture's biggest untapped resource, and claims that robots could be programmed to build stadium roofs using the fibrous building material.

Elytra Filament Pavilion by Achim Menges for the V&A Museum is modelled on flying beetle wings
The pavilion forms part of an ongoing research project by the University of Stuttgart team looking at biomimicry in design

"The genuine possibilities inherent in the material are not fully tapped into," he said during a tour of his Stuttgart-based research unit last month. "We haven't left that phase where these new materials are mimicking old materials."

"It's a very new technology so nobody has picked it up and commercialised it."

The techniques used to produce the Elytra Filament Pavilion have emerged from an annual series of research pavilions created by Menges and Knippers with students – including one based on the shells encasing the wings of beetles.

This year's edition, based on research into the shells of sea urchins, is an arching laminated timber structure that has been industrial sewn together by a robot, while in 2013 the units developed a carbon-fibre pod that takes a lobster's exoskeleton as its point of reference.

It follows a series of experiments in carbon fibre, including this lightweight structure based on a beetle's shell

The pioneering research carried out at the University of Stuttgart, coupled with that taking place at ETH Zurich, is being championed by architects including Wolf D Prix and BIG's Kai-Uwe Bergmann and has led to a wave in robotic construction.

London's Architectural Association School recently announced its new MSc Design & Make course, which will run alongside its existing programme to focus on robotic technologies and their application in timber construction.

Menges will lead a symposium about biomimicry, design and engineering in conjunction with the V&A Engineering Season, which opens on 18 June 2016

The season of engineering-themed events will include the first major retrospective of Ove Arup, the 20th-century engineer behind the Arup group, and highlight projects by British engineering firms including AKT II, Atelier One, Buro Happold, Expedition Engineering and Jane Wernick Associates.