Fibrous Tectonics

Fibrous Tectonics Studio

Professor: Achim Menges

Program: M.Arch I: Harvard Graduate School of Design

Team Members: Gavin Ruedisueli and Marysol Rivas-Brito

As part of the larger research goals of this studio, this project explores emergent fiber behaviors in the deployment of fibrous composite spaces made out of carbon and glass fiber and epoxy resin as a cohesive matrix. Together, these materials form what is known as a“composite system”, which contains embodied within it both tension and compression forces, and achieves structural performance without the need for deep and heavy structural elements.


Conventional fiber composite production requires either a mold (known in industry as a “mandrel”) over which fibers are stretched, or an armature with specific attachment points for a highly ordered fiber application process. In both of these production methods, the behavior of the fiber is highly controlled through precise positioning and/ or directionality, and prestressing of all tension members. Once the composite has cured (after resin undergoes a chemical change from a wet, viscous state to a highly rigid state), a very light structure can be extracted from the mandrel or armature, but there is a significant amount of material and energy that is invested into producing the mandrel (which may or may not be reused).


This project aims to break down barriers between designer and builder as well as between design and execution, taking advantage of the natural behavior of the fibers in order to achieve smart composites to be explored in architecture.


This process intends to bring the design process into the construction phase and create structures through repeatable processes that can occur at many scales of deployment, and with minimal armatures. Furthermore, the project seeks to explore the inherent spatial qualities that result from the chosen construction technique.



  1. an apparatus consisting of interrelated parts with separate functions, used in the performance of some kind of
  2. a mechanical apparatus or contrivance; 3.Mechanics.
    1. a device that transmits or modifies force or
    2. also called simple machine. any of six or more elemen- tary mechanisms, as the lever, wheel and axle, pulley, screw, wedge, and inclined
    3. also called complex a combination of simple machines.
  3. Older
    1. an automobile or
    2. a
  4. a bicycle or
  5. a vending machine
  6. any complex agency or operating system: the machine of

A machine in the culturally understood sense of the word is something that follows a series of commands and does not have intelligence of its own, yet its definition is far broader than this narrow understanding. In the culturally understood case, the design process is linear, where the designer controls the entire process, setting out a set of commands or algorithms for the machine to follow.


Our team is seeking to push the understanding of the machine beyond the mere tool of a human hand. A machine is more than an assembly of mechanical parts.  It is more than metal and bolts.


Machines can be autonomous.


This definition of “machine”can accommodate both analog and digital machines.

Our culture disregards the machine as something inherently inhuman. Yet, what if we as humans, instead of creating a divide between man and machine, instead embraced the machine as something with its own intelligence and value it beyond its usefulness to carrying out a specific task?


What is required is to expand our definition of “machine.”


We define a machine as an a physical phenomenon that for all intents and purposes appears to act intelligently to affect its environment.


It can consist of both software and hardware. In some cases it will be mostly an algorithm. The human can act as machine just as well as a mechanical object, as our definition of machine merely sees the machine as this physical phenomenon.

Initial Explorations

We investigated various methods of creating form-active structures with minimal formwork. Looking at precedents such as the work of Frei Otto, the team considered how a membrane structure could become a hardened shell.


Later explorations focused on tensile structures with exterior or interior formwork that could be easily re- moved. The exterior formwork was inspired on the works of Frei Otto, such as the Munich Olympic Stadium. It was considered that exterior forms would be easier to remove than interior ones.


Individual supports located either interior or exterior to the structural shell allowed for easy removal of formwork from the cured composite structure. They also allowed for a fluid construction process where the form could  be slightly morphed during construction by moving the supports.


The overall goal in this exercise was to attempt to create forms without rigid formworks defining corners. This reduces the materials required for construction and also sets up a dialogue between the designer and the construction process, rather than a linear design to construction process.