Instead of designing for the extremely rare maximum load scenarios, why not build with minimum material input and have buildings adjust to varying dynamic loads like snow and wind? Researchers at the University of Stuttgart teamed up with Bosch Rexroth (an engineering firm specializing in drive and control technologies) to create an ultra-lightweight wooden shell which owes its adaptive structural behavior to a specifically designed hydraulic drive system. SmartShell is only four centimeters thick, covers a surface area of 100 square meters (1076 square feet), and features hydraulic drives positioned at its four support points.
The system produces imperceptible movements and adjusts the shell’s geometry to compensate deformations and material strains caused by changing weather conditions. Three of four support points can be moved through the use of hydraulic cylinders equipped with state-of-the art sensors. Using a Rexroth control system specifically created for hydraulic drives, the shell counteracts changing loads and regulates its position and shape in milliseconds.
The technology which could revolutionize the performance of wooden shells and potentially anticipate similar trends in the mainstream building industry, was developed in collaboration between Bosch Rexroth, the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK) and the Institute for System Dynamics (ISYS) at the University of Stuttgart. While ILEK and ISYS contributed scientific research to the project, Bosch Rexroth designed and managed the hydraulic system.
Similar technologies such as active vibration damping and adaptation to changing loads are already being used in stadium design, high-rises, and bridges, but the new hydraulic system could significantly increase the efficiency of supporting structures and allow for drastic savings in material.
SmartShell is among myriad groundbreaking building and architecture solutions coming from the small city in the south of Germany. Home to several education and research institutions like the Institute for Computational Design (ICD), Institute for Building Construction and Structural Design (ITKE), and the above mentioned ILEK and ISYS, Stuttgart has become a major creative hub to watch.