Calculated destruction

- June 13, 2008

Architecture student Matthew Kennedy with his scale model. (Nick Pearce Photo)

Over the last four days, the lawn of the Ralph M. Medjuck Building  on Spring Garden Road has looked like an abstract art gallery. Second-year architecture students are building structures with the purpose of destroying them.

The students were given a community building project for a large space as part of the Building Systems Integration course. They erected 1-to-5 scale replicas of structures spanning distances of at least 25 metres. “This is one of the advantages of having a summer semester,” says Professor Steven Mannell. “These are things you can’t do during the rest of the year.”

About 55 students in seven groups researched and planned different models for two weeks leading up to construction. Stephanie Barronnier’s group built a hyperbolic paraboloid, similar to the design used on the Calgary Saddledome. “It’s very cool to try something different, not just your standard post and beam structure” says Ms. Barronnier, 23.

Although they’re smaller replicas, being outdoors gives the students the opportunity to make accurate replicas of each model and understand the materials used. Mark Erickson’s group constructed a cable-net structure, like that used on many stadiums. “Inside, we can’t make large physical structures, only ones that don’t portray the real structural capability of the model,” says Mr. Erickson, 24. “Being outdoors means they can be large enough to understand the materials and how they act.”

At the end of the week, students will begin to destroy their creations. “The students will add weight in small pieces akin to what would happen in the real world,” explains Prof. Mannell. “They have to understand how each structure works well enough to destroy it properly.” 

What each group uses for the demolition is up to them. “We may drape wet sleeping bags over it until it gives,” says Ms. Barronnier.

“We haven’t decided, but we could use something like water balloons,” adds Mr. Erickson.

The project has also been a good opportunity for the community to see what the students do and interact with them. “It’s been good for everyone and there has been a lot of casual interpretation and explanation,” says Prof. Mannell. “Some people have even been architects and engineers not associated with Dal who have come asking questions and being a bit skeptical, which gives the students an opportunity to explain their projects.”

In addition to planning and constructing the structures, Prof. Mannell says there are many parallel lessons for students through these projects. “Things like group work, logistics, budgets, skeptics, and so on are all aspects of real world projects.”

The students will begin the destruction of their structures on Friday, June 13 at 2 p.m. There will also be a fundraising ice cream sale, “Ice Cream Dreams,” put on by the Urban Planning students. All are welcome to attend. 


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