For the first time the V&A have planned a season celebrating engineering, starting this week with a new pavilion which responds and grows depending on how people move and use the space under the canopy. It is called the Elytra Filament Pavilion after the hard
beetles’ wings it is based on. Experimental architect Achim Menges (pic right) who worked on the pavilion with a structural and a climate engineer, says: “Some of the most interesting materials you find are binary reinforced plastics. Everything you can see here is only made from that.” Load bearing materials in nature use hard, light structures like cellulose, chitin or collagen and this pavilion is an example of biomimicry, it emulates nature to give the building both strength and lightness. Designers used the structure of the hard forewing shells of flying beetles, called elytra, and transferred the idea to design and engineer this building, which is made up of 40 hexagonal cells. This design arguably imitates the natural design better, because it can detect changes and respond to the environment using sensors embedded in its structure. “It’s not only architecture but an incredibly efficient structure,” says Menges. Two types of continuous fibres are used, dark carbon fibre elements and pale glass fibres which are all in cured resin to make them super strong. Also the winding of the fibres between upper and lower layers, like in the beetles wing, adds strength.
At one end of the pavilion there is a computer-programmed robot (leftweaving a new roof panel, which takes 3 hours and depends on the visitor information it receives from the sensors in it’s canopy fibres. The panels are extremely light, the whole pavilion weighs the same as two square metres of brick wall, so each panel can be manhandled by one or two people. It’s a modular system so you can easily dismantle it too. Here’s your chance to see an architecturally live responsive structure. Well worth a visit, it’s amazing. On 17th June there will be a Biomimicry and Design afternoon, £10 book here … shop.vam
Next month the V&A Engineering Season seeing a celebration of the 20th century engineering design hero Ove Arup with an exhibition of 150 of his pieces, 100 of which have never been seen before. It will be from 18th June. vam