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High-Eco-Tech: Building Avant la Garde

High-Eco-Tech: Building Avant la Garde

This video was recorded at MIT World Series: Goldstein Architecture, Engineering, and Science Lecture. There's more than a little magic in Werner Sobek's constructions, which balance aesthetics, architectural constraints and pathbreaking science to, in his words, "go beyond" nature's own limits. Sobek walks us through his portfolio of engineering feats, enabled by a worldwide architecture and engineering business, and by his affiliated institute, where researchers are let loose on the most demanding problems of the business. For instance, in 1997, his group began to address a key issue the architecture and construction trades engaged in only through "theoretical discussion:" how to design a Triple 0 building –for zero energy consumption, zero energy emissions and complete recycle-ability. Such innovative constructions require new, lightweight, recycle-able, load-bearing material. His interdisciplinary research team found inspiration in human bones, whose internal architecture is made up of cells arranged according to a certain geometry. They have developed a bioreactor, and are trying to work their bioengineered material into concrete, to make it both porous and strong, ultimately reducing energy and material input. Sobek seems fascinated with structural systems that seemingly flout natural law: super light materials that support heavy weights; or vast constructions that exist for just a few hours. He designed a tent for the Pope's mass in Germany intended for a crowd of 300 thousand, using a transparent wall made of under- and over-pressurized plastic that was sucked onto the structure by vacuum. Once the pump pressure was switched off, "things fell apart, and recycled easily." He's researched lightweight, branchlike structures for carrying loads, and scoffs at any analogy to a tree: "To say nature is always designing in an optimum way is nonsense." Sobek shows his audience a variety of facades and "adaptive skins," including an atrium for a Swiss fertilizer firm that has an all glass roof that can rotate, as well as open and close in three minutes. His researchers have created load-bearing glass "shells" millimeters' thick that neither crumble nor shatter when challenged by the weight of snow or a vandal's blow. He's clad a steamy Bangkok airport terminal in fabric that somehow blocks heat and runway noise, but permits the circulation of fresh, cool air. These amazing inventions don't spring up overnight. Says Sobek: "There are 1,000 problems I'm having around me, like a big herd of sheeps. From time to time, I take one, further develop it, then send it back to the herd. Only a few problems can be attacked, solved and brought into practice in short time. Many things we've been working on for 10 years."

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