Freeform Façade

In recent years, the trend of freeform or ‘blob’ architecture has been the hallmark of many iconic buildings globally. The realization of such ambitious projects requires a unique design process and Meinhardt Façade is one of the few consultancies capable of undertaking challenges of such magnitude.

There are multitudes of methodology in which to create a practical freeform design. Manipulation of geometry is one, a subject which in itself creates a totally new field of study known as architectural geometry.

A more traditional approach involves physical form finding and this will form the main subject of this article. As early as 1970s, architect and engineer alike have been asking the question of ‘How to create more with less?’ when it comes to building materials. The solution, as it turns out, lies in the nature around us.

Imagine for a moment the shell of an egg. When pressed from the apex at the long side, an egg shell can take an enormous amount of force relative to its size, while it will crumble effortlessly when it is attacked across the side. Surely the subtle difference lies in the curvature of the shell in which the load is transmitted and this translates to structural efficiency based purely on the variation of shape alone.

This idea dominated the intent behind many iconic structures throughout the 70s and the 80s. The design based on nature contains with it desirable aesthetic in terms of free flowing line as well as inherent strength to withstand the elements.

Unsurprisingly, in the early days many world-renowned freeform buildings were designed based on one of nature's most fundamental forces - gravity. This concept can be simply explained by the ‘hanging chain’ phenomenon.

When fixed from two ends the hanging chain will form a shape of catenary under gravity. Catenary transfers load in pure tension and when flipped upside-down a highly-efficient arch will form from which carries force in pure compression, thus eliminating undesirable bending moment from the structure.

One prominent example is Frei Otto’s Mannheim Multihalle. Architecturally, hanging chain model played a fundamental role in shaping a new form of architecture which will later become a prominent part in post-modernism landscape.

Mannheim Multihalle is designed based on the ‘flipping’ of hanging chain model, Architect - Frei Otto.

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February 10, 2012

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