Designed collaboratively by the Block Research Group at ETH Zurich and Zaha Hadid Architects Computation and Design Group, this footbridge brings together the best of old masonry techniques and new computational technology to create a whole new future of concrete. The project, called Striatus, is made from 3D-printed sections that fit together in a self-supporting structure, giving it a whole range of environmental advantages like reducing waste and simplifying recycling.
The 16-metre-by-12-metre footbridge is the first of its kind in the world, with 53 concrete blocks slotting beside each other to form the bridge’s sweeping arches and base. Drawing on structural principles seen in stone bridges in Ancient Rome and brick vaults in Ancient Egypt, the pieces are shaped and arranged to direct the forces acting on the bridge towards its footing via compression, creating a geometrically stable structure. Researchers at ETH Zurich also worked with Incremental3D and Holcim to develop specialised 3D-printing technology and concrete ink so that the fundamental elements of the material run at a right angle to the flow of compression, helping the concrete pieces press together more securely. This careful design means that Striatus is able to hold its shape and support pedestrians crossing it without the mortar, steel, or post-tensioning tendons usually needed to secure concrete structures.
This new method of building with concrete is not only technically impressive, but also environmentally friendly. Traditional reinforcement work for concrete structures uses more resources and gives off a lot of carbon emissions, which the methods behind Striatus are able to avoid. The footbridge can also be removed in ecologically responsible ways if it is no longer useful: the blocks can be disassembled and rebuilt, allowing the bridge to be reused at a different location, and if there’s nowhere for it to go, the concrete can be easily recycled because it hasn’t been combined with other materials. What’s most impressive about Striatus, however, is that it is just the beginning. With this proof of concept, ETH Zurich are already working on an unreinforced flooring system that will allows us to construct high-rise buildings more sustainably. That could be a huge shake-up for the construction industry, which is notoriously one of the world’s biggest polluters.
Striatus is currently in the Giardini della Marinaressa public park in Venice as part of the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale but, thanks to its portability, the footbridge will be taken apart in November and relocated to an as-yet-undecided new home. It’s a conscious design that could serve as the blueprint for the future of concrete, using the best of new technology, old techniques, and creative mathematical thinking.
For more sustainable architecture by Zaha Hadid Architects, check out our article on their recent work on the Tower C business hub in Shenzhen, China.
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