A new project from the recently formed mSurfaces.com uses the shape of soap bubbles to create a chair in order to unlock new structural advantages for design and building. The piece demonstrates the first step to take this promising concept from the realm of ideas to eventual realization in architecture.
It is the mean curvature throughout that makes a soap film so aesthetically pleasing to the eye. That is, no point on a soap bubble is bending any more or any less than every other point on the surface. It’s always bending the same, everywhere. Curvature is equally distributed throughout. However, this formal quality also redistributes the structural forces evenly throughout the surface as well.
If you could manage to harness this property for a structural system, the live loads above any given enclosure would no longer be limited to 4 points of structural support as in a normal rectilinear construction. Instead, the infinite number of points on the shape’s surface would support these live loads. Rather than carry a quarter of the live load, each point would only have to carry an infinitely small load. That is to say, the burden of live load would be negligible.
The building’s structure now must only support its own weight. If you could use a highly complex shape that evenly distributes the load, you need not use heavy steel. You could use a lightweight and inexpensive material and yield a similar structural strength. We would no longer need to invest in expensive engineered materials that both cost a lot of money and require substantial amounts of carbon-based fuel to forge.
The only requirement is that the shape must change. We must now build a shape that is continually curving. The strength of this concept is not in the structural capacity of the building materials, but in the sophistication of the shape.
While architects have used the shape of a soap film to provide canopy, such as in the 1972 Olympic Stadium in Munich by the German architect Frei Otto, the chair will be the first built object to support a human’s weight in the attempt to harness the inexpensive structural potential that is available. Further explanatory materials can be found on their website, mSurfaces.com, where there is a link to their Kickstarter project.