Block Research Group
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Mariana Popescu is an architect with a strong interest in innovative ways of approaching the fabrication process and use of materials. She received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in architecture from Delft University of Technology, specializing in non-standard and interactive architecture within Hyperbody. She has been part of projects centred around technology and sustainability (Nuon Solar Team and ReVolt House) and worked as parametric design specialist in the Netherlands.
As of 2015, Mariana is a PhD researcher at the Block Research Group and part of the NCCR Digital Fabrication. Her research focuses on the development of KnitCrete, a novel, material-saving, labour-reducing, cost-effective formwork system for casting of doubly curved geometries in concrete. The system uses a custom, 3D-Knitted, technical textile as a lightweight, stay-in-place shuttering. Recently, KnitCandela, a pavilion designed in collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architects, was built in Mexico City, using the developed technology. (source: https://block.arch.ethz.ch/brg/)
KnitCrete: stay-in-place knitted formworks for complex concrete structures
To address the increasingly urgent requirement of decreasing embodied energy and waste in construction, Mariana’s research brings together advances in digital fabrication, computation, and structural design. It looks at reducing material demand both in terms of structural volume and during the building process, specifically for concrete.
Designing structures that intelligently include structural performance and architectural geometry leads to beautiful, economical and structurally optimised systems that use very little material. However, their expressive, intricate and bespoke geometries can be challenging to build with traditional formwork methods that rely on single-use cut timber or milled foam. To harness the full potential of non-standard and non-repetitive efficient concrete structures, the formwork systems used for construction need to be rethought.
Using 3D weft-knitted technical textiles as stay-in-place moulds is a novel type of flexible and cost-effective solution for casting concrete structures. Through tensioning the custom-tailored textile is formed into the desired shape and coated with a special cement-paste to obtain the mould, which becomes a basis for efficient, lightweight structures.
With an in-house developed computational pipeline consisting of algorithms and design tools to translate any given 3D geometry into a knitting pattern in an automated way, commonly available CNC knitting machines produce intricately knitted textiles. These textiles are light, compact and can be effortlessly transported to the construction site.
The system was deployed at an architectural scale with KnitCandela, a four-metre-tall curved concrete shell with a knitted textile formwork supported by a steel cable-net built at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) in Mexico City in 2018.