A digital design-build studio at Ball State University recently made Muncie, Indiana the unlikely site for new investigations in parametric design. Led by professors Gernot Riether and Andrew Wit, the studio constructed a traveling pavilion that ‘celebrates the qualities and potentials of Indiana’s post-industrial landscape by attracting people to places that are not currently considered public space’. The structure is composed of fifty-six three-strut tensegrity modules. By parametrically adjusting their dimensions, the designers were able to control both the curvature of the pavilion and the size and shape of several openings that frame views of the site. Each module is dressed in white Elastan, a performance fabric that makes shade during hot Indiana summers and introduces curves in an otherwise linear structure. This textile treatment emphasises the individual modules rather than the single, continuous structure, giving the impression of a delicate balancing act where in fact there is impressive rigidity.
Riether points out that the advantages of using tensegrity structures – ones in which all components are either in pure tension or pure compression – go beyond lightness and rigidity though. ‘The entire system remains loose with all members connected except one,’ he says. ‘This allows the modules to be stacked and transported efficiently as loose, low-volume bundles of bars and cables.’ With such a simple means of transport comes the possibility that Underwood Pavilion might continue to travel, creating destinations throughout the Midwest.
Photography: Gernot Riether
Design Team: Gernot Riether, Andrew Wit, Noor Al-Noori, Andrew Heilman, Chris Hinders, Charles Koers, Huy Nguyen, Nick Peterson, Steven Putt, Ashley Urbanowich