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Catenary Installation

Research Partner: Ting Zhang
Studio Professor: Arash Adel
Site: Pullman, WA

This hanging installation project initially began as a wooden catenary pavilion – but through the advances of many failed attempts, the properties were changed to a polypropylene catenary system. The approach followed physical form finding techniques and extensive research on catenaries and catenary techniques. Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia was used as precedent to help grasp an understanding of the catenary structures. The hanging installation still followed and achieved our design principles of creating a parametrically experiential space, but added a new elemental property of semi-transparency. The double curvature form was created through multiple iterations through the mathematics and physics of grasshopper + kangaroo + rhino.

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The Catenary Pavilion
The pavilion is located in Golden Gate Park in the city of San Francisco, California. Within this context, the idea was to design a functional pavilion for regular public use and to be used as a stage. The approach followed physical form finding techniques and extensive research on catenaries. Many experiments were performed to comprehend the parameters and constraints that make catenary structures so unique. The final form emerged from the extensive research and the desire for a lightweight structure suitable for the public in Golden Gate Park. The arches are all catenary curves and completely structural. The wood is parametrically spaced and angled to allow light and shadows to pass through, adding to the experience of the pavilion.

The WellerFellowship Exhibition
The project was selected to become an installation in the upcoming WellerFellowship Exhibition. Ting Zhang and I teamed up to continue the research and develop the form. However, with a pressing deadline through many failed attempts to create a flexible catenary pavilion and with the Exhibition’s deadline quickly approaching, efforts were switched to a hanging installation. Almost back to the start, the inversed catenary pavilion form was flipped back to the catenary shape. The physical form finding methodology was again used, but now with a different goal. Additionally, Grasshopper was used to create the double-curvatured parametric installation.

The Catenary Theory
​The intention of this research is to look at the macro-scale and explore parameters, rules, methods, and strategies to develop computational models for the integration of form, structure, and program. We began looking at historical precedents such as Antoni Gaudi and his works on hanging chains and associated architectural design methods. In the first part of the research, we studied Gaudi’s method for designing La Sagrada Familia. After understanding his method, we designed a set of parameters to create a system which could be modeled computationally.

Physical Form Finding
​The hanging model functions like a designing machine. Our study models created were created out of ball chain, jewelry chain, string, and finally polypropylene plastic strips. These series of physical form finding exercises led to a powerful computational model capable of integrating geometry and structure in different scales.


Final display at the Weller Fellowship Exhibition

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