Modern building, ancient ideas

When anyone thinks of design in the future, it’s always with an eye firmly on new technologies – lighter materials, mechanised labour and impossible constructions. And there’s no reason to think otherwise, today we are seeing things never before imagined and some buildings soar into the sky at impossible heights.

But what if something changed, there was a shift at some point in time and the way we look at things, the way we do things shifts away from what we currently vies as ‘hi-tech’?

Matter Design, based out of Boston have earned a reputation for exploring materials and methods, particularly heavy materials and what can only be describes as ancient methods. Recently they partnered with Cemex Global R&D to explore the idea of how people, without the aid of machines could man handle and construct structures made from solid concrete.

Through studying how it is thought places like Stone Henge and the heads of Easter Island were constructed and positioned, then working with Cemex to develop lighter forms of concrete, Material Design has not only conceived but roved the concept of ‘man portable’ concrete blocks that weighing up to 750kg a piece.

Walking Assembly from matter design on Vimeo.

How’d they do it? Though carefully working out how to position the centre of mass of each of the blocks, and then designing some rather smart bases that allow the blocks to be rolled and turned by a single person, Walking Assembly, as it’s called, allows two people to create a wall that spans 6×3 metres, complete with a stair case.

While it seems like an academic novelty exercise, the concept could have interesting implications for the construction industry. The cranes needed to lift and position prefab concrete panels currently used in the construction industry are not only costly to have on site, but are not always available or can not get into where they may be needed. The idea of being able to use precast construction and requiring noting more than a forklift presents interesting thinking of what is possible for smaller structures, ones that are generally out of the plausibility for such construction methods.

While we have become used to the idea of small buildings, such as housing, being made from light weight materials due to their cost efficiency  and ease of use, time and time again we have seen such buildings are often unsuited to the environments they are located. Poor thermal properties, inability to stand up to extreme weather events; in many instances, current construction methods used for smaller buildings have not advanced much for several hundred years, and if anything they have become worse and the desire to squeeze costs outweigh the long term viability.

The idea of being able to construct small structures from heavier and more ‘environmentally’ efficient materials, all from a catalogue of blocks that could be easily handled onsite by a few people is an idea well worth investigating. Imagine how the urban landscape would change visually…

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