Age-old technique enhanced by computer modeling

A joint project between EPFL’s Geometric Computing Laboratory and a British artist has resulted in an impressive structure made of woven bamboo. It will be on display from 22 to 29 September in the SG building on the EPFL campus in Lausanne.

Take a few bamboo stems, split them into six slats each, add a dash of computer modeling and BamX! – get an ultra-light gazebo that is not only surprisingly strong, but also folds down for easy portability.

BamX is the name of this ingenious structure, created through a combination of EPFL’s innovative technology and the age-old practice of bamboo weaving. It has a diameter of 10 meters and a height of 4.5 meters and will be installed in the main hall of the SG building.

The project is led by Mark Pauly, head of EPFL’s Geometric Computing Laboratory. His research team, led by Seiichi Suzuki, has developed algorithms that can calculate the exact point at which the bamboo slats should be crossed to achieve maximum strength in the final structure. Based on the designs generated by the algorithms, builders only have to screw the slats together or connect them with plant-based cable ties. “We didn’t invent the technique of using braided bamboo to make gazebos,” says Pauly. “But with our computer models, we can simulate complex designs and carry out virtual stress tests – this takes the technology to a whole new level.” Thanks to the modeling process, shapes and structures that have never been tested before are conceivable.

The woven columns used in the structure are patterned after the work of Alison Grace Martin, a British artist who creates sculptures in glued cardboard using the same approach. That’s where Pauly and his colleagues got their inspiration for BamX – and she’s also the one who grew the bamboo they use in her garden in Italy. The design of the pavilion is also thanks to Professors Jan Knippers from the University of Stuttgart and Stefana Parascho from the Laboratory of Creative Computation (ENAC School) at EPFL.

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Pauly hopes the pavilion, unveiled this month, will become a permanent fixture on the Lausanne campus. But more importantly, this project is part of a broader push to develop new, more sustainable approaches to architecture. “I think it would be great if we could plant a bamboo grove on the EPFL campus,” he says. “Architecture students could use the wood — along with our computer models or other methods yet to be developed — to design and build their own, locally sourced, carbon-negative structures.”