3D Printed Concrete Bridge

A 3D printed concrete bridge will be built for the “Time Space Existence” exhibition during the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021.  The exhibition will be hosted by the European Cultural Center.  It will display structural elegance through the use of robotics, 3D printing and geometry. 


The project is known as Striatus, which literally means “a small striped semiterrestrial eastern American squirrel with cheek pouches”.  In this case, the stripes refer to the 3D printing process which fabricates a structure in layers or stripes.  The design team includes the Block Research Group (BRG) at ETH Zurich and Zaha Hadid Architects Computation and Design Group (ZHACODE), in collaboration with incremental3D and Holcim. 

Structural elegance through study of natural systems

Many architects and engineers have passionately worked on finding ways to create structural elegance by incorporating natural systems in their designs.   Pier Luigi Nervi’s Palazzetto dello sport for the 1960 Olympics in Rome utilized the idea of people lifting a dome as an inspiration to conceive structural supports for the dome.  Felix Candela experimented with reinforced concrete structures distinguished by thin curved shells to create elegant structures such as the Palacio de los Deportes de la Ciudad de México for the 1968 Olympics.  Santiago Calatrava has become a household name because of his ingenious use of natural forms to create structures that exhibit elegance and movement.  His poetic projects such as the Pont de Montolivet unite structural efficiency with movement.  They also fit neatly into their urban context. 

Pont de Montolivet by Santiago Calatrava
Pont de Montolivet by Santiago Calatrava 1

Pier Luigi Nervi’s Palazzetto dello sport for the 1960 Olympics in Rome
Pier Luigi Nervi’s Palazzetto dello sport for the 1960 Olympics in Rome 2

Structural elegance through geometry – Formation/Deformation

What is the most efficient structural form for an arch?  This question has puzzled many thinkers and engineers.  In 1675, Robert Hooke wrote a series of anagrams in his book on heliscopes.  One of them was deciphered by Richard Waller in 1701 to mean, “As hangs the flexible line, so but inverted will stand the rigid arch”.  An inverted catenary is then the theoretically correct line for an arch.  That was a profound observation, which arose from an intuitive understanding of forces acting on a catenary cable.  I had an opportunity to teach a class on structures to architecture students that focused on the formative stage of design process.  It is during the formative stage when major characteristics of a structure are defined.  The research and experimentation resulted in a 1991 presentation at Harvard University, where I elaborated on the interrelationship between loads, geometry, and the behavior of structures. 3

Structural elegance through geometry - Formation/Deformation
Structural elegance through geometry – Formation/Deformation 3

Advanced computation, robotics and 3D printed concrete bridge

The Striatus bridge will achieve strength through geometry and will rely on compression only without the use of reinforcement.  By using advanced technologies, from computational design and engineering to robotic manufacturing and 3D printing, Striatus will revive traditional master builders’ techniques, according a press release.  The presser further states that the bridge is designed to place material only where it is needed, significantly reducing the environmental footprint.  The dry joints of 3D printed concrete bridge will make recycling and reuse of building components possible once the structure is dismantled.    

Significance of this exhibit

The idea of using geometry to derive an efficient structural form is not new.  The idea of 3D printing large structures is also not new. One of my earlier posts talked about the work of an MIT engineer on 3D printing of large scale structures. The real significance of this exhibit is the demonstration of computation, robotics, and 3D printing to build a concrete structure at a major public gathering.  It would be interesting to see how a structure would behave without the built in redundancy that is common in the design of engineering structures and how it would function in an actual urban context. 

  • Title image:  Press Release – https://zahahadid.egnyte.com/fl/yaFVC39Zrm#folder-link/
  • 1 Pont de Montolivet by Santiago Calatrava.  Lauren Manning from New York, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
  • 2 Palazzetto dello sport by Nervi.  By MaT12Vi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93888606
  • 3 Architecture: Design Implementation, Edited by Spiro N. Pollalis, Formation/Deformation: Deriving Structural Forms Through a Study of Cable Deformations, ACSA Technology Conference, Conference Proceedings, pp 104-107

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