In summer 2011 the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE), together with students at the University of Stuttgart have realized a temporary, bionic research pavilion made of wood at the intersection of teaching and research. The project explores the architectural transfer of biological principles of the sea urchin’s plate skeleton morphology by means of novel computer-based design and simulation methods, along with computer-controlled manufacturing methods for its building implementation. A particular innovation consists in the possibility of effectively extending the recognized bionic principles and related performance to a range of different geometries through computational processes, which is demonstrated by the pavilion's complex morphology built exclusively with extremely thin plywood sheets (6.5 mm).
The project aims at integrating the performative capacity of biological structures into architectural design and at testing the resulting spatial and structural material-systems in full scale. The focus was set on the development of a modular system which allows a high degree of adaptability and performance due to the geometric differentiation of its plate components and robotically fabricated finger joints. During the analysis of different biological structures, the plate skeleton morphology of the sand dollar, a sub-species of the sea urchin, became of particular interest and subsequently provided the basic principles of the bionic structure that was realized. The skeletal shell of the sand dollar is a modular system of polygonal plates, which are linked together at the edges by finger-like calcite protrusions. High load bearing capacity is achieved by the particular geometric arrangement of the plates and their joining system. Therefore, the sand dollar serves as a most fitting model for shells made of prefabricated elements. Similarly, the traditional finger-joints typically used in carpentry as connection elements, can be seen as the technical equivalent of the sand dollar’s calcite protrusions.