Celebrating engineering at the V&A

Materials World magazine
4 Jul 2016

The V&A museum in London, UK, kicked off its first ever engineering season with the unveiling of the Elytra Filament Pavilion, a 200m2 structure comprising 40 unique hexagonal components, inspired by the forewing shells of flying beetles, known as elytra. The pavilion is made from glass and carbon fibres and is the outcome of four years of research into the integration of architecture, engineering and biomimicry.

Achim Menges, an experimental architect, Jan Knippers, a structural engineer and Thomas Auer, a climate engineer, used a robotic fabrication technique developed by the University of Stuttgart, Germany, that uses a novel way of winding composite materials by a robot arm. This method harnesses the material properties of carbon fibres to give them strength as woven structural components. 

To make each component, the robot wound resin-soaked glass and carbon fibres onto a hexagonal scaffold, where they hardened. Each cell and column is unique. Its final form of densely-knit fibres is the result of the changing stress conditions determined through structural simulation and testing carried out in advance. A series of these individual cell-like modules has been used to create the pavilion’s distinctive shape. Each one weighs around 45kg each and took an average of three hours to make. The total structure weighs less than 9kg/m2 – 2.5 tonnes for the entire pavilion.

The pavilion will grow and change over the course of the V&A’s Engineering Season – anonymous data on how visitors use and move under the canopy will show where it could most usefully be extended. This, as well as structural data, will be captured by real-time sensors installed in the canopy’s fibres.