Friday 8 August 2014

Monocoque Structures - For Kids

One of the exercises on the carousel of activities described in our post Architecture for Kids, was making monocoque structural enclosures with cardboard.  The idea is really simple.  A set of cardboard shapes attach together at their edges with bulldog clips.  As three dimensional arrangements, they take on their own structural integrity, even in flimsy cardboard.  Using panels as structural components in preference to frame structures has the advantage of not requiring cross bracing or triangulated structural paths, which we noted in Play Time.  The set consists of only a few shapes taken from the platonic solids (equilateral triangle, square, pentagon) and the Bucky-ball (hexagon).
The Bucky-Ball: Pentagon and hexagon form the basis of geodesic structures.

The key constraint is that the edges of all the shapes are the same length so they fit together neatly.

Shapes made from scrap card with rotary cutting and perforating blades.
Shapes make model panels for monocoque constructions.

Equilateral triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon - the toolkit of shapes (panels).

Starting with the platonic solids as a base and expanding from there, it is quite easy to make interesting geometric enclosures which retain their structural integrity.

Platonic solids Tetrahedron, Cube, Octahedron, Dodecahedron, Icosahedron plus the Bucky Ball

With this set of components, the possibilities for making shapes and enclosures are great.  The design might be for a den, a space to stand in, a bridge, a space to sleep in, or just a experiment to build to build the biggest structure possible.

An additional bonus of the system, combinations of panels (especially triangular ones) allow structural enclosures to move and morph in to different shapes when junctions are freed up.

They are so simple, the kids in the architecture workshops took to them straight away, working with them to create their own unique spaces.

Testing how the panels go together to make enclosures with a Year 5 class at Furzedown Primary School.
(Botton left, a space bug enough to crawl in to...) 

The implications to architectural design are not insignificant.  Scaling the shapes up in to larger sized building panels, they could be used as a design solution for any number of functions, from a garden office, to a pop up cinema, to relief shelters, or to a fully weather tight building.  With the same connection strategy at the edges, panels can be made out of different materials to be solid and insulated (walls), be permeable to air (give ventilation), clear or translucent (windows and roof lights), or provide access (doors).

Possibilities of building monocoque structures with a selection of
- panel shapes and
- panel materials
to create a wide variety of functional enclosures.

This little system offers the possibility of a flexible design solution for creating rapidly deployed structures with a single process assembly.  This single process is something which is in contrast to the increasing complexity of structures such as the wall in our current building industry and could prove an advantageous innovation

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