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The new construction method involving 3D knitting

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A new technique of 3D printed construction has been developed for complex architecture, that utilises lightweight knitted textiles to create a framework for curved concrete structures.

The KnitCandela used a unique construction method involving 3D knitting a textile formwork and coating with concrete

The technology was developed by researchers at ETH Zurich in collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architects’ Computation and Design Group. The first application of it on an architectural scale was displayed at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City over the weekend, in the form of a 13 foot curved concrete shell named KnitCandela.

The shell’s design is inspired by the concrete-bending style used by acclaimed architect and engineer Félix Candela, but the key element is the technology used to create it.

The construction used a unique method of building the formwork by 3D knitting textile layers that would then support the concrete exterior.

The 3D knitting machine creates exact shapes that have been designed using computer modelling

A digitally generated model produced the exact shape required for the complex knitted formwork. An industrial knitting machine would then craft four long, double layered strips, knitting over 200 miles of polyester yarn in 36 hours. The upper layer included sleeves for the insertion of supporting cables to be used during construction.

Demonstrating the versatility of their framework, the designers then packed the entire thing in to two suitcases and flew them as carry-on luggage from Zurich in to the museum in Mexico.

Once on site the fabric was tensioned between a temporary frame to set out the shape, before being sprayed with a specially formulated cement mixture, which would create the initial mould. Once this hardened, it could be covered with conventional fibre-reinforced concrete to complete the 13 foot structure.

The knitted formwork weighed just 25kg, with the cable net weighing around 30kg. But it could support over 5 tonnes of concrete, shaped in to complex curves.

The interior of the 13ft KnitCandela shows the 3D knitted formwork, while the outside is covered in concrete

The developers use the shape of the shell to highlight the many benefits of the technology. Using 3D modelling they can create architectural frameworks of any shape, allowing unique and complex features to be included, with the strength to support robust materials like concrete.

The research shows that using this method creates a simplified construction process for complex shapes that can cut down on material, labour and waste. Plus there are benefits of easy transport of the formwork from where it has been designed - as demonstrated in this case by bringing it in carry-on luggage.

Marina Popescu, a doctoral student and one of the lead developers on the project, said: “Knitting offers a key advantage that we no longer need to create 3D shapes by assembling various parts. With the right knitting pattern, we can produce a flexible formwork for any and all kinds of shell structures, pockets and channels just by pressing a button.”

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