The ribbed, honeycombed, and curved concrete forms shown here have a real back-to-the-future aspect to them. But these aren’t purely speculative pieces, à la Greg Lynn. They’re the product of Unikabeton, a three-year Danish research project conducted by the Aarhus School of Architecture, the Danish Techno-logical Institute, the University of Southern Denmark, and various construction trade organizations.
The forms represent ongoing research into the structural capabilities of CNC-milled concrete. Using high-tech robotics, the team prototyped a series of blocks, slabs, and structures. “What this process is all about is basically placing material where it’s structurally needed and removing it where it isn’t,” says Asbjørn Søndergaard of the Aarhus School of Architecture.
The Unikabeton team estimates that the forms use between 60 and 70 percent less material than conventional concrete structures. This has serious real-world implications. “The concrete industry emits about five percent of the global annual C02 emissions,” Søndergaard says. “It’s double the amount emitted by air traffic. So if we can remove seventy percent of the concrete necessary in construction, then we can lower the environmental impact.”
The process also has a very appealing side effect: formal beauty. “That’s the second big implication that comes out of this new architectural language,” Søndergaard says. “The forms actually express the inherent forces of the system. They’re kind of structural shapes.” Currently the team is applying its research in commercial projects, including a church in Aarhus and a competition entry for the United Nations headquarters, in New York.