Friday 27 December 2013

Play time

Dear Santa

Thank you very much for the Magnext.  The kids really enjoy playing with it, but not as much as me!

Playing with toys like these can be very thought provoking for architects.  Frank Lloyd Wright played with building blocks as a child.  Richard Rogers promoted play with lego at his exhibition at the RA earlier this year.  Brenda Vale's book Architecture on the Carpet looks at the significance of toys and their influence on architectural design.

Play time at the Richard Rogers exhibition at the RA 

Magnext is of particular interest to me for a number of reasons:

Space frames
They reveal a lot about framed structures.

Triangular based space frames are much stiffer than square based space frames.  

Square based space frames might work better with a conventional rectilinear planning grid, but are not intrinsically stiff and are subject to twisting forces.
Triangles are much better than rectangles for holding things up but this does not always tie in with the rectilinear grid humans have mapped on to the world.

Frame vs panel
Using structural panels instead of framed structures (with non-structural infill panels), potentially offers much more rigidity to a building structure.

Panels have resistance against shear forces which basic frame structures lack.

The structural panel offers designers the opportunity to economise with materials and resources, and integrate design disciplines.  Instead of the structural engineer designing the frame, on to which architectural panel fits, the panel can perform both roles.  This represents a tighter integration of working disciplines and is discussed in several earlier posts.

Platonic solids
The kit of parts is very simple: Connection, square and equilateral triangle.  From this many of the platonic solids can be created, as well as the basics of geodesic spheres.

There are five platonic solids where all the faces are regular polygons, all of the edges are equal and the same number of faces meet at every vertex.
Tetrahedron, Cube, Octahedron, Icosahedron
and Dodecahedron

Other symmetrical geometries with structural integrity 
As representations of building enclosures, these geometries can have an inherent structural stability, because either the panel pieces are resistant to shear, or framed pieces are used as triangles within a larger geometric order.

Using the standard pieces, a variety of regular, symmetrical geometries can be produced, including basic geodesic spheres.  As representations of enclosures, they have their own structural integrity.  Both as panel and framed constructions they are resistant to shear because of the triangular forms integrated in to their geometry.

Examples of using this type of approach can be found in the building industry with components like structural insulated panels (SIPs) and with projects like the British Museum's Great Court roof.

Triangular geometry of the Great Court roof at the British Museum helps the structure to be as efficient and as light as possible.

According to Buckminster Fuller, geodesic domes and spheres are the only structures which get stronger as they get bigger.

Free-form structures
With these ideas in mind I like to play a game with the Magnext.  The object is to see how large a geometric assembly can be made with the standard pieces without loosing it's structural integrity.  The geometries which evolve can be non-uniform and start with a simple tetrahedron.  Parts are added, piece by peice.

The object of the game is to see what geometric arrangements work as structural enclosures, adding components, piece by piece to a tetrahedron 'seed' (top left).  The results can be large or small, with square or triangular parts, but they must have their own structural integrity.
Results using triangles were often more dynamic.
(In my defence, Buckminster Fuller said 'Dare to be naive')

The more irregular the geometries the more interesting they appear as building shapes, evoking dynamic and playful internal spaces.

Flexibility in prefabrication and construction
Looking at this approach to a standard kit of parts in relation to construction, it prompts the idea that a defined set of panel sizes, complete with finishes, structural and thermal qualities might be used to offer an economical solution to some building needs.  Used with a single panel connection system, the panels themselves can have different finishes, be solid or glazed or work as windows and door ways etc., and all fit together neatly.  Flexibility in panel choice, and the ability to make large or small assemblies can disguise the fact that standardisation is a key driver to the design.

Pre-finished structural insulated panels can be used to create a variety of building solutions.
A building enclosure achieved with a single site operation.  

Happy New Year from ToyBox Architecture

1 comment:

  1. Play-Plax and Architecture -


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