Schiara Lantern: Translucent fiberglass lightens blob architecture

Architect Greg Lynn of Greg Lynn Form and Kreysler & Assoc., a specialist in architectural composites and large-scale sculpture, have collaborated to develop lightweight, translucent and energy-efficient composite building elements and systems using digital design and fabrication tools.

Architect Greg Lynn of Greg Lynn Form (Venice, Calif.) and Kreysler & Assoc. (American Canyon, Calif.), a specialist in architectural composites and large-scale sculpture, have collaborated to develop lightweight, translucent and energy-efficient composite building elements and systems using digital design and fabrication tools. One result of this collective enterprise is the Schiara Lantern, a 5-ft/1.54m diameter, volumetric lantern that Lynn exhibited during the “Generative Fabrication” session at SIGGRAPH 2009, the 36th International Conference and Exhibition devoted to computer graphics and interactive techniques (August 2009 in New Orleans, La.). The “lantern” with its numerous apertures in multiple orientations was designed digitally, and the shape was transferred to a CNC-cutting machine to directly cut foam molds. Translucent fiberglass panels combined with opaque “towers” finished in lightly sandblasted polymer concrete were molded and assembled to form the finished sculpture. Illumination is from a single, energy-efficient 60-watt bulb.

Lynn is well known for his use of computer-aided design (CAD) to produce irregular, bio-morphic architectural forms, some of which he has dubbed “blob architecture.” As 3-D computer models and CNC tools increasingly allow the realization of complex forms, says Lynn, traditional material and construction processes become less relevant. “We are rapidly moving toward building systems based on custom-formed materials. Continuous-section structures, such as plywood, two-by-fours, and I-beams will give way to monocoque structural systems that will improve efficiency by combining enclosure with structure and by using materials such as composites,” adds Lynn, whose preferred materials are high-modulus fibers encapsulated in energy-efficient synthetic resins.

“Schiara Lantern represents an example of this process — one fully capable of controlling the construction of entire buildings. Furthermore, composite materials, particularly those made with unsaturated polyester resins and glass fibers, are more environmentally efficient than typical methods of construction,” says Lynn. Even greater efficiency can be realized, notes Bill Kreysler, president of Kreysler & Assoc., by using resins made from soy oil or other bio-based materials, and fibers made from natural materials, such as hemp, flax, bamboo, or seagrass.