Experimentation with 3D printed structures is churning out new designs in record time. And now a new robot designed and constructed material not only brings the element of expedited timelines, but a new super lightweight material.

This week, the Victoria & Albert museum in London unveiled the robot-fabricated Elytra Filament Pavilion to open the museum’s first ever Engineering Season, a series of exhibitions that celebrate the “‘unsung heroes’ of design.” The pavilion is made from a new building material that’s inspired by the structure of the elytra, a hard shell that protects the wings of beetles. It’s a filament that combines glass and carbon fiber and is at once extremely lightweight and incredibly strong.

The Elytra Pavilion is the work of a multi-disciplinary team from the University of Stuttgart that is lead by experimental german architect Achim Menges and includes architect Moritz Dörstelmann, structural engineer Jan Knippers, and climate engineer Thomas Auer. By the time they submitted the proposal last year, the team had spent three years studying elytra fibers in an effort to mimic its properties for building material in architectural structures.

The filament they developed is a mix of glass fiber and carbon fiber. The material is woven together by two Kuka robots into hexagonal cells that make up the structure. “The real novelty of this project that’s never been tested on this scale before is that we don’t use a mold to create the fibers,” Menges says. Rather, “we used the materiality of the fiber to inform the structural components.”

In other words, the design and engineering processes are inseparable. The structural integrity of the pavilion informs the design of each individual component, which in turn determines the strength of the structure. Menges and his team developed a robotic fabrication process whereby two Kuka robots wind the resin-saturated glass and carbon fibers around a steel tool that looks like a hexagonal framework. The robots are constantly being fed real-time data from sensors that monitor the structural loads and stress that the canopy is experiencing at that given moment.

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