Tom Bessai is a Canadian architect currently teaching at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning. This past year Tom has been on sabbatical working with Sean Alquist to research hybrid force-active structures—or structures that work under the force of tension. Much like a bungee cord, these structures have two forms: slack and taught. Sean and Tom have been researching material options and constraints for these structures, experimenting with rope, mesh, nylon, and elastic in various forms.
While these structures borrow from techniques seen in gridshell structures, they are entirely new in that they actuate material as well as the geometry of their design. These structures are first designed in computer-aided design (CAD) software and then are physically built. After building the scale models, Tom uses a Microscribe to plot the vertices of the model in 3D space. These points then appear in Rhino, creating a CAD model based off of the actual, physical structure. Tom can then compare his built model to his simulated model. Comparing the measurements of both structures identifies the relationship between the tension of the structure and the material used. By taking these measurements, the properties of the material can be more specifically defined, allowing for larger and smaller structures to be more accurately designed.
These structures are not only complex and beautiful; Tom imagines they could have a practical application as well. Hybrid force-active structures could be used to control architectural acoustics, create intimate or open environments, or define interior and exterior spaces.
For more on Tom’s work, visit his blog detailing this research. (coming soon…)