Tuesday, 2 December 2014

MARAS 2014 Post Conference Report


The fourth International Conference on Mobile, Adaptable and Rapidly Assembled Structures (MARAS 2014) took place in Ostend, following previous meetings held in Southampton, Seville and Madrid.

The Conference was organised by the Free University of Brussels, represented by Prof Niels De Temmerman, and the Wessex Institute, represented by Prof Carlos A Brebbia. The meeting was sponsored by the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics.

The conference book corresponds to Volume 136 of the WIT Transactions on the Built Environment which is now available throughout the world in digital and hard copy formats. All papers are archived online in the WIT eLibrary (http://library.witpress.com/), where they are permanently available to the international scientific community.

Transferable objects and structures can change their shape in order to adapt to a different function, various morphological or structural requirements, or simply another location. They do this by means of a kinematic mechanism or by allowing disassembly or reconfiguration of their constituent components, allowing them to evolve over time.

There is something truly mesmerizing about structures that can suddenly change their shape or appearance, or that demonstrate a substantial increase in volume in their final displayed configuration, whether it be in aerospace engineering or in earthbound applications. Utilising transportation and using it to one’s benefit has been, and still is, an inspiration to a vast number of researchers worldwide.

The conference papers described some of the latest developments in deployable systems and structural mechanisms, rapidly assembled systems, temporary structures and dwellings, a variety of sustainable and innovative approaches as well as the applications of tensegrity and reciprocal frames.

Carlos welcomed the delegates and explained how the series of international conferences fits within the objectives of WIT, ie the dissemination of knowledge at an international level. The MARAS conference is part of a series of 25 or so international meetings organised each year by the Wessex Institute. The papers are published in relevant volumes of the WIT Transactions in order to achieve the widest possible dissemination. Other activities of WIT include advanced engineering consultancy, short courses and seminars, in addition to postgraduate training and research. The Institute collaborates with many institutions all over the world and supports a network of well-known colleagues.

Carlos ended by thanking the delegates for having come to Ostend, and hoped that they would have an occasion to see some of the sights offered by the city.

 Keynote Addresses

The conference opened with two keynote addresses by Lincy Pyl and Niels De Temmerman, both from the Free University of Brussels. The first was on “Synergy between structural and architectural engineering: the point of view of the structural engineer”, while the latter dealt with lightweight transferable structures, discussing also the synergy between architectural and structural engineers.

The first talk was given by Prof Lincy Pyl from the Department of Mechanics and Material Construction, at the Free University of Brussels. She is a specialist in numerical modelling and steel structures. Her talk dealt with the synergy from the point of view of the structural engineer.

Lincy discussed the requirements that both professions ought to consider for the conceptual design of any building. They include the need to design for strength. The design should consider morphological indicators, ie indicating what type of structural shape to be applied. The choice is vast if not infinite but it is possible to find morphologies which result in less material for instance. Another important consideration is designing for stiffness and stability as offered by the structural index developed by Shanley.

Lincy referred as a case study to a letter of Leonardo da Vinci regarding the design of a strong but light bridge, which would be practically indestructible. This idea, a transformable pedestrian bridge, was explored at the Free University in designing a bridge using only two types of members which can be rapidly assembled.

Lincy also referred to the number of bridges that they have been designing for Kenya, trying to find simple forms. This work was also extended to roof trusses. The talk presented other interesting examples, including the study of the stability of the tall tower of Brussels Town Hall. The study aimed to decide if a corroded metal ring needed to be replaced. It was proved that the ring was not required after a finite element analysis.

The next talk by Prof Niels De Temmerman, stressed the importance of the collaboration, with particular reference to the designing, engineering and constructing of transformable structures. The objective of his research group is to look at the material and structural aspects as well as the construction.

Transformable structures should be a function of a few component types, such as in the case of Meccano pieces. Transformable mechanisms should allow them to be rapidly deployed.

Niels explained the need of such sustainable solutions, including recovery of materials and components. They also aim for low tech mechanisms and use kit-of-parts sets.

He then showed some of the case studies carried out in his Department, including deployable scissor type shelters. He also felt that a transitional system ought to be able to evolve into a more permanent structure.

Scissor structures have the advantage of being transferable and mobile. In order to achieve their design, Niels used finite element analysis as a parametric tool at the conceptual design stage.

Another interesting application presented by Niels was the design and development of a dome. It was also based on scissor components.

Niels ended his talk by inviting the participants to visit the Exhibition put together by his group in an adjoining room where some of his collaborators would be available to answer any questions. The exhibition provided a wide range of transformable structures models, including not only many types of scissor structures but also several different types of domes.

 Invited Presentations and Conference Sessions

Other invited lectures were as follows:

  • “Parametric modelling of an air-liftable origami-inspired deployable shelter with a novel erection strategy”, by Ashley Thrall, University of Notre Dame, USA.
  • “Movable and launched bridges: recent realizations and improved techniques”, by Santiago Hernández, University of A Coruña, Spain.
  • “Reciprocal frame optimized timber truss structure: a design and build case study”, by Olga Popovic Larsen, School of Architecture, Denmark.
The rest of the papers were classified in the following sections:

  • Temporary structures and dwellings
  • Engineering transformation
  • Rapidly assembled kit-of-parts systems
  • Innovative approaches
  • Tensegrity and reciprocal frames


 Special Session

The special session of Engineering transformation, organised by Prof Christoph Gengnagel of the University of Arts in Berlin, consisted of eight invited presentations:

  • “Form-finding bending-active structures with temporary ultra-elastic contraction elements”
  • “Pliable structures with rigid couplings for parallel leaf-springs: a pliable timber torus pavilion”
  • “A review of elastic grid shells, their erection methods and the potential use of pneumatic formwork”
  • “The design and physical modelling of deployable structures based on curved-line folding”
  • “A new hybrid: elastic gridshells braced by membranes”
  • “Transformable active bending: a kinematical concept”
  • “Evaluation of design parameters for deployable planar scissor arches”
  • “The design of a foldable triangulated scissor grid for single-curvature surfaces”


 Social Occasions

There were ample opportunities for the delegates to interact and hold discussions during the conference, outside as well as within the meeting room.  In addition to coffee breaks and lunches, they were able to visit the special exhibition arranged by Niels De Temmerman and his team, members of which were at hand to explain the different architectural forms.

The International Scientific Advisory Committee met over dinner to discuss the conference and ways to improve the meeting when it reconvenes. There was general agreement that the conference was most successful and promoted interchange of ideas between the participants, mainly architects and structural engineers.

Before the Conference banquet, Patrick de Wilde gave a short talk regarding the history of Ostend, which started as a small fishing village but rapidly grew in importance because of its excellent port facilities. Trading was for a long time the main strength of its economy, which grew to compete with that of the Dutch East India Company. The highlight of the city’s history was a three years’ long siege by Spanish forces. Although the city was eventually taken, the heroic resistance became part of the local folklore. The city suffered during the two World Wars, due to its strategic importance as a port. Ostend is now a vibrant seaside resort with many cultural events as well as renowned beaches. The reputation of Ostend as a holiday resort was started by Leopold II, King of Belgium and Congo, who built the promenade, hotel, racecourse and numerous parks during another golden period of the town’s history. Nowadays, Ostend is once again associated with charming and relaxing seaside holidays.

The Conference banquet took place in a fort built by Napoleon to control access to the port of Ostend. The fort has been renovated and comprises an excellent restaurant with terrace from which it is possible to have a panoramic view of Ostend. The delegates were welcomed with a glass of Spumante and a taste of the local beer, including the famous Koite beer originated during the siege of Ostend, when the city was surrounded by a strong army. The food – as usual in Ostend – was excellent and accompanied by good wines, resulting in a most happy and friendly evening. On their way to the Fort and back Anne Marie de Wilde, Patrick’s wife, described the different sights and some of the local history.

 Closing of the Conference

The Conference was closed by Carlos who thanked the delegates for their contribution to this most interesting meeting, in which many new ideas were discussed. Because of the originality of the presentations and their topics, Carlos hoped that the presenters would consider sending the extended version of their work to the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics. Carlos concluded by saying that the conference will be reconvened at a time and in a place to be shortly announced. He hoped that all the delegates would be able to participate.

 Conference Proceedings

The proceedings MARAS 2014 – Mobile and Rapidly Assembled Structures IV, 336pp (Print ISBN: 978-1-84564-772-8; eISBN: 978-1-84564-773-5) are available from WIT Press. Orders can be placed on the WIT Press web site at www.witpress.com or by email: marketing@witpress.com, telephone: +44 (0) 238 029 3223 or fax: +44 (0) 238 029 2853.

Papers from the conference will also be hosted online at the WIT eLibrary as Volume 136 of WIT Transactions on the Built Environment (ISSN: 1746-4498, Digital ISSN 1743-3509). For more details visit the WIT eLibrary at http://library.witpress.com

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