The success of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, designed and engineered by Frank O. Gehry and inaugurated in 1997, opened the eyes of the world to the plastic possibilities of Free Form Design. That is, on the side of architects and their admiring clients. Some architects draw up complicated but surprising and attractive Free Form Designs and win design competitions. The next step is to involve the manufacturing industry and the contractors in realizing these dreams. According to the author(s), the desire and logic for an adapted Free Form Technology will become became apparent after more designs. At Mick Eekhout’s design & build company Octatube the first experiences with Free Form Designs either failed, were aborted, were a disaster or led to unfortunate events such as the bankruptcy of competing firms who took on the projects without major Free Form Design experience. But Free Form design has matured nowadays. Many lessons can be learned from these early experiments, which is the main reason to share these experiences with readers of this book.
Free Form technology quickly became a R&D priority in academia and building industries when the first major projects had to be realized in Europe. Initially the applied technology had been poor, as CNC production didn't manage to catch up with the speedy development of 3D design programs that architects employed. Industry was hesitant to invest in this new field. Some Free Form buildings that in the new millennium got pushed onto the market, had shown serious defaults. Therefore many general contractors feared Free Form designs to turn into Free Form nightmares. Most of the first Free Form building proposals didn't get realized, like the Wilhelminapier, Rotterdam, of which the budget didn't suffice. The fish-like shaped construction designed by Gehry for the interior hall of the Deutsche Genossenschaft Bank in Berlin (Germany), did get built – at great financial loss. It caused Gartner, at the time the leading European façade manufacturer, to virtually go bankrupt and it pushed the take-over by Permasteelisa. The production industries didn't manage to materialize the proposed curved architectural shapes, so academics of the Chair of Product Development jumped in to jointly develop new technologies.
As knowledge and experience grew, the results improved. The Rabin Center in Haifa (Israel), showcased a successful technical development, but commercially at a great loss. Others as the Municipal pavilion at the Floriade, Hoofddorp (NL), the town Hall of Alphen (NL) and the Malmö Green House (Finland) were successful, both technically and financially.
Dr. Karel Vollers, after publishing his acclaimed dissertation Twist & Build, headed the Chair's Free Form technology (aka Blob technology) group projects from 2001 – 2011.
The research group consisted of PhD students (Martijn Veltkamp, Walter Lockefeer and Barbara van Gelder) and approx. 50 BSc and MSc students. Mick Eekhout and engineers of his firm Octatube, had great impact by contributing their Free Form technology experience.
In a decade, knowledge of Free Form technologies spread all over the faculty. Simultaneously, in the research portfolio of the Chair of Product Development, sustainability issues became more important. In 2011, after a R&D portfolio re-arrangement, only the PhD students were left, to continue their projects. The research group was dissolved and with the retirement of prof. Mick Eekhout, the Chair as a whole got terminated.
The Free Form technology group's body of knowledge now is integrated into the section Architectural Engineering. And professor Kas Oosterhuis continues his ‘from-file-to-factory’ work approach in his Hyperbody group [www.hyperbody.nl]. Many inspired findings of the Chair of Product Development's Free Form group are assembled in this book. Additionally the book contains an extensive article taken from Lord of the Wings, written by Mick Eekhout and Sieb Wichers, on the development of the sandwich shell roofs for the Rabin Center, [Reference IOS Press, Amsterdam, 2015, ISBN 9781614995494]. This selection of articles represents our technological contribution to Free Form Architecture.
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