The CorkCrete Arch was developed as a design-based research activity concerned with using robotic fabrication technologies in the production of a novel building system. By exploring the combination of two different materials – cork and concrete (GRC) – the goal was to merge the sustainable and insulation properties of the first with the structural efficiency of the second. The result is a lightweight and performative material system suited for customized prefabrication and easy on-site installation. From the production point of view, this project represented a complex challenge. Since it is not a single material installation, as many robotic experiments are, the process had to coordinate the different physical tolerances resulting from employing diverse materials and fabrication processes (i.e. robotic and manual).
To do so, the design and material deployment of the arch were envisioned from the beginning in an algorithmic fashion. This allowed its full development in a single parametric design environment, from conception to materialization. Based in the catenary curve, the geometry of the arch was conceived to challenge the different fabrication processes. Pursuing a milling process, the outer face of the cork panels was designed as a double curved surface with a customized engraved texture. Envisioning the hotwire cutting, the inner surface of the GRC panels was designed as a ruled surface featuring a subtle crease effect. All the robotic works for fabricating the cork panels and EPS molds took place at the DFL, while the GRC production happened in the precasting facilities of the Mota Engil company.
Once completed, the CorkCrete Arch was manually assembled three consecutive times in different places, which proved the ease of construction due to the lightness of this building construction system. From the structural point of view, it was stable enough to be installed on the FAUP garden without any fixation. From the aesthetic point of view, the contrasts between the cork and the concrete materials (e.g. dark/bright, textured/smooth, soft/hard…) triggered the curiosity of the people who felt compelled to visit and touch it. From the technological point of view, robotic fabrication proved to be a flexible and precise process to manufacture building components. The techniques employed in the production of the CorkCrete Arch opened possibilities for real industrial implementations.