AD Special Issue: Material Synthesis - Fusing the Physical and the Computational

Sean Ahlquist published his research "Membrane Morphologies: Heterogeneous Forces and Articulated Material Form" in the AD Special Issue: Material Synthesis - Fusing the Physical and the Computational. 


Material behaviour is induced at the moment that a structure, with its accompanying system of energies, is assembled. The research introduced here by Sean Ahlquist, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, in textile manufacturing and membrane structures challenges the concept of assembly in an architectural context, where form emanates not only from the integration of forces anddifferentiated materials, but also through the pervasive influence of structural action at the moment of fibre construction and composition.

Membrane structures have long been confined to forms which fit the typology of saddles, cones and ridge-valley configurations. The research described in this article explores the expansion of such a vocabulary through tailoring the structural interaction between differentiated textiles and fiber-reinforced composite rods. A series of prototypes exhibit a structural system where tensioned textiles work in equilibrium with actively bent composite rods. Such dynamic interactions strongly consider the design of topology, the manner in which networks of elements are arranged. The work defines a shift in organizational concepts from those based upon componentized (parametric) relationships to ones driven by the topology of fibres and their interactions. The progression of prototypes in this research displays an ever-deepening control over fiber structure and its implications to form definition. Culminating in the design and manufacturing on variegated textiles, behavior takes an expanded role where material properties are seen to emerge at the moment of textile formation, in the stressing and interlocking of fibers. It then becomes secondary, yet still intensely inextricable, to consider how material responds to structural action.  This alters significantly the proposition for material-driven design where, akin to the evolution of natural systems, search for the most fundamental material properties is the initiator to a complex reciprocation of generating material, organizing form and articulating functional robustness, all taking place at a significant range of scales.


Ahlquist, S.: 2015, Membrane Morphologies - Heterogeneous Forces and Articulated Material Form, AD Fusing the Physical and the Computational, 85 (5), pp 80-85. (online)