Endemic Interstices

, , ,

Thesis project developed at the Architectural Association’s Design Research Lab during 2010-2012 under the Alissa Andrasek Studio.

Endemic Interstices proposes a design process as a bottom up system with the capacity to produce buildings that self structure, adapt and co-evolve within the environment considering natural resources as part of a its tectonic system.

It therefore speculates on a fabrication technique that utilizes mud cracks as formwork to cast intricates and porous structures. The articulation of its nature, process,formal qualities and deployment induces the production of a design proposal that is adaptive, unique and triggers collective sense of belonging.

///The use of soil

Within this systematic environment, there are cases like the traditional building techniques based on the use of clay soil, such as adobe, whose life cycle and availability are largely attached to their own environment. In this case the transformation of the environment is easily carried out. Moreover, the sprawls of settlements are undertaken via addition, subtraction, and change in the size of units. This effortless proliferation of settlements, made possible by material availability, enables to this day. that half of the world population live or work in buildings made of earth.

Under these circumstances, this research reconsiders the potential of earth in architecture. However, the main focus of this study is not on the potential of earth becoming the building block per se. Rather, this study seeks to understand soil behaviour under varied environmental conditions, which once understood, can become a potential building strategy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

///Cracking behaviour

Cracks is a universal phenomenon. However, It is also the least understood because of its nonlinear nature (the effect does not follow in proportion to the cause).

Recently, the science of fracture and failure of materials pinned down characteristics responsible for non linear crack patterns. For example, during the drying process of concrete, cracks occur through a local fault of the material, most specifically the material’s mass. As it dries, the wet mass that before was elastic, gains cohesion but also, at the same time, contracts.This phenomenon happens simultaneously through the entire mass of the material. Departing, as abovementioned, from the material’s local fault, cracks propagate into free unoccupied space, finally rupturing at the most vulnerable location. Following the same principle, similar features also occur in frozen ground, lava flows (eg/ columnar basalt), and igneous dykes and sills.

Mud cracks are, therefore, the result of its drying process and soil composition. In short, its formal characteristics are directly influenced by its formation environment. Rapid drying, which occurs in sunny environments, results in widely spaced, irregular mud cracks, while closer spaced, constant mud cracks indicate a shady formation environment.

The direct relation with formation environment and its nonlinear flow, makes the natural phenomenon of cracks a desirable investigation in the field of architecture. As a building tool, it encompasses both the expression of its environment and instrumentalises this occurence in a move towards an adaptable form of architecture.

Endemic interstices

///Case studies

Crack patterns have been used in different forms and contexts in the field of art and architecture.

Doris Salcedo, in her site specific installation “Shibboleth” (2007), ruptured the concrete floor of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern with a large crack running the full length of the museum hall. This symbolic rupturing was employed by the artist as a means to represent the limit of a border, the experience of the immigrant, segregated and living outside, inhabiting a crack as a negative space. In this installation, this negative space provided by the physicality of the crack, turns into a political and aesthetic space of aggregated non-belonging.

In Frank Gehry’s installation “Ungapatchket” (2008), the crack phenomena was intentionally used to demonstrate the simplicity of pattern creation via the natural computation of the material on complex double-curved surfaces, as opposed to the usual geometrical approach. Layers of clay were cut on small rectangles and applied on the surface, synchronised with the time of the exhibition, allowing visitors to watch the construction and pattern formation. This shows the potential of the utilisation of this peculiar natural phenomena as a self-computable pattern generator on existing surfaces.

Albeit all prove to be interesting instances of “crack use,” their usage is limited to formal aesthetics and lack a familiarity and closeness to the phenomenon itself (the materiality of the crack and formation processes). The interest of this research, on the other hand, rest on the possibility to diminish the conceptual and formal gap in the employment of the crack in design proposals.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

///Cast in cracks

Cast in crack is a fabrication technique that uses crack dynamics in clay soil as a locally self-computable form work for casting intricate porous formations that could be used in architecture.

In order to initiate the fabrication process some conditions need be met:

First, the existing soil must be cracked in order to assume that the environmental condition and geological composition allows for the cracking phenomenon to occur.

Once the cracks unfold to a desired morphology, the interstitial space is filled with a material (ie.Concrete) and cured. Subsequent layers of this process is added on top of previous layers, creating articulations that can ensure a firmer structural integrity for when the cast structures fuse.

Finally, the last step consists of removing the form work, a process which undertaken by the elements via weathering, erosion, and eventually, in the washing off by rain.

///Investigating mud cracks

The material tests and models built were oriented towards the understanding of limitations, potentials, formal qualities and variations of the forms of crack patterns and their deployment under controlled climatic conditions.

Throughout the entire design research, opportunities and speculations were simultaneously made and tested as a result of the physical and digital tests. This constant feedback loop expanded the great potential of the utilisation of the mud cracks in this research, becoming crucial for enabling, consolidating and giving coherence to its design potential and proposals.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

///Simulating the mud crack phenomena

In order to instrumentalise and speculate on the use and applications of the mud cracks and its processes, this research digitally simulated the whole process in parallel to the physical experiments.

///Cast structure performance

In order to obtain structures that could sustain its own weight or other loads, strategies were formulated to enable structural calibration, which can be obtained through the manipulation of the crack sizes, occurrence and the articulations of their layers.

///Parametric deployment.

The type of stresses the cast structure can stand are forecast on the form where the system is going to be deployed on.

Therefore, the form work surfaces where the system will be deployed were colour mapped with a gradient of the result of its stress analysis (red in compression up to blue in tension). This information is read then by the mud crack simulation, and the parameters to meet the type of cracks were strategically linked: denser cracks on areas under more stress and less dense cracks on.

///Shadow control

The cast structure also performs as shadow devices, and its performance can be tweaked in order to offer more or less shade when desired. Denser amount of cracks during the process results in a denser cast structure with the production of increased amount of shadows.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

///Air flow cooling.

The shadows produced by the cast structure can also be articulated in order to capture and cool air flows.

This model was produced in order to test the performance of this hypothesis. The elongated form oriented transversely to it in order to make the air flow through its inside.



Concrete slab or enclosure can be deployed by adding an extra step to the process. Concrete, in the desired thickness, is layered on top of the mud to cover the formwork as the last step of the process, as opposed to filling only the cracks.


///Deployment concept

The choice of the deployment technology is one of the most critical aspects of the system as whole: on one hand, to harvest the forms and the process of the mud cracks and, on the other hand, to deploy it in a way that enhances its primal concept with its users and usage.

The choosen approach utilises earth as the scaffold formation for the deployment of the system. However, the earth employed is not a found condition of the relief, but the result of earth works.

It is technique that has already been successfully deployed, as in the Teshima Art Museum project in Japan, completed in 2010. The process consists of forming a pile of earth with the desired form by earthworks protocols (within the limitations of the earth pile and the constraints of the structure to be used), followed by the laying the concrete on top of the surface created.

///Design speculations

As a result of the experiments, both in the material and on simulations, speculative design intentions were tested and catalogued, to explore the potential application of this design concept.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

///The proposal.

In order to extract the qualities of the system, the technology here is deployed in its entirety within a specially selected site.

This would ultimately result in a proposal capable of presenting the system as a powerful alternative design approach, at once intrinsically adaptable and with the potential of offering a meaningfulness of the building and its users, becoming thus the ultimate expression of its environment.

///credits: Alexandre Kuroda / Ulak Ha / Daghan Çam / Karoly Markos