Archive Page 2

Assembly challenges cont’d

As can be seen in the picture of the previous post, the cradle formwork did not entirely solve the challenge of assembling the complex pieces into the vault. Issues seemed to be the tolerances of the coated pieces and the registration of how the pieces fit together.

Luckily, a little (referring to the size of the model) stone mason volunteered to make it happen: Lara Davis. After many hours of shaving off the faces and carefully checking the digital model, the vault was assembled upside-down in its cradle. Unfortunately, because of a lack of proper interlocking of the pieces, the vault could not be assembled without gluing the pieces together.


Assembly challenges

After a long time of inactivity – slightly distracted with writing my PhD dissertation and such – , the 70-piece 3D puzzle was still waiting to be solved.

The main reason for making a scale model is to have an extra check on the stability of the vault and check effects which are not taken into consideration into the TNA: sliding failure under all loading cases for the chosen cutting pattern, possible collapse mechanisms due to support displacements, or sensibility of the vault under asymmetric live loads.

The challenge of the formwork is that it needs to be taken off after the vault has been assembled. Thanks to Katelyn for trying to make it work. At the end, it was chosen to make a cradle formwork to assemble the vault upside down. The idea was to then flip over the vault, pressing it against the supports on the base. The thrust and interlocking of the blocks should make this possible.

Dr. Block is in da house

MIT / Escobedo Vault

Download here Philippe Block’s PhD dissertation which describes the details of the methodology used to design this vault prototype:

THRUST NETWORK ANALYSIS: Exploring Three-dimensional Equilibrium.

Article in Architect Magazine

The project is featured in an article in “ARCHITECT Magazine”:


Model: pre-assembly

It is pretty clear we need centering to put this together!

3D printing scale model

The scale model is being printed on the ZCORP 3D printer in one of the MIT Architecture’s Design Fab Labs. This machine allows to build a 3D object from a CAD model. After slicing the solid model into horizontal slices, it places very thin layers of a white powder (basically a fast setting plaster, similar to plaster of Paris) and uses a regular inkjet printer head to deposit the bounding liquid where the plaster should harden. This process is repeated until the model is fully printed.

After the powder-base printer is done, we needed to excavate the model from the build tray. I felt like a true archeologist looking for a lost city, but there were also a few flash backs to happy times in the sandbox as a child.

After excavation, the brittle pieces need to cure in the oven and then want to be coated with a wax. Anyone fancies solving this 70 piece 3D puzzle?

Thanks to Chris, Patrick and Junno for helping with the 3D printing.

70 piece vault

The vault is finally entirely cut up! 

We now want to 3D print a scale model of this block assembly. Because we could only get one overnight printing session on the machine, we needed to fit the entire cut-up vault into one 3D printer batch (8in x 10in x 8in). This results in a scale model of approximately one foot squared. Things had to move fast to be ready to print, so no time left for nice packing… Enjoy my packing chaos!

Ready to print! The estimated printing time for our model was about 7 hours.


Load-bearing stone, Unreinforced masonry vaulting, Stone form-finding, Structural masonry vault, Free-form masonry, Equilibrium shapes, Funicular design