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Cloud Arch looks to build the future

More than 2,000 architects and industry professionals have had the first glimpse of a revolutionary new construction technique that could change the future of engineering and architectural design.

Web Structures is playing a key role in an innovative collaboration project looking at new building materials and how they can be used effectively and efficiently to push the boundaries of structural engineering.

This patent-pending technology has been jointly developed by a research team led by Japanese architect Assistant Professor Shinya Okuda from the NUS School of Design and Environment, and Professor Tan Kiang Hwee from the NUS Faculty of Engineering, in collaboration Web Structures.

Cloud Arch is a new generation of architectural technology that harnesses ultra-light materials to meet the construction needs of a sustainable future.

The first prototype debuted as one of the two winners of Archifest 2014 Pavilion Competition that was held in Singapore earlier this year. Cloud Arch was on display from 26 September to 11 October 2014.

Assistant Professor Shinya Okuda, who is from the NUS Department of Architecture, said: “We are interested in creating column-free space in a way that saves materials and time, by using ultra lightweight materials.

“We decided to use Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam, a widely used packaging material. More than 95% of this material is air, and its composite can be fire-resistant.

“After two years of prototyping and structural testing, we successfully developed a technique to control the composite material and applied it for the construction of long-span structures. This novel technology has been granted a provisional US patent."

"We have also developed several prototypes - starting from a mere 4-metre span, to the current design comprising two sets of 14-metre span in the form of the Pavilion. As the design looks like a floating cloud, we called it Cloud Arch.”

He added: “By applying digital fabrication technology on the EPS foam, we could shape complex forms in a fast and cost-efficient manner. As the material is extremely lightweight, we could achieve significant savings in terms of transportation cost as well as the time taken to set up and dismantle the structures.

“With Cloud Arch, we hope to reduce the construction cost by one-third and construction time by half, compared to conventional construction materials, such as concrete.”

Dr Hossein Rezai, Group Director of Web Structures, which has been conducting structural simulations of the Cloud Arch, said: "A very encouraging fact is that, we have barely needed to increase the EPS composite thickness for the longer spans, but only to reinforce its composite strength.

“This implies that Cloud Arch's advantageous ultra-lightweight, will be further realised when the target spans get longer."

The research team’s next step will be to develop a 24-metre span factory roofing prototype.

Richard Outhwaite, director of Web Structures’ sister company Web Earth, has been involved in the research project.

He said: “We are excited by the possibilities that EPS may create and to be part of such an innovative project team.”

In its eighth year, Archifest was a two-week long festival organised by the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) to celebrate the urban environment. The exposition is also a nurturing ground for reflection, question, collaboration and experimentation.

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