A few years ago I discovered the elegant structures of Pier Luigi Nervi. An Italian engineer, architect, and professor, Nervi primarily used reinforced concrete in his projects, to stunning effect:
Nervi’s work epitomizes the use of “expressive structure.” A phrase that describes functional structural elements or systems that are also designed to be beautiful, expressive structure is at its utmost when it plays a large role in the aesthetic experience of a building. For some of the most famous and beloved works of architecture in the world, their beauty is their structure.
Eiffel Tower, by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel – Paris, France – 1889
One of the most iconic pieces of expressive structure in the world, the Eiffel Tower was built in less than 18 months in Paris for the 1889 World’s Fair. It still remains the tallest structure in Paris (due in part to modern height restrictions that preserve its status in the city), and for 41 years was the tallest man-made structure in the world, until the Chrysler Building was built in 1930.
Octahedron Stool by Eric Trine
A lithe translation of the Eiffel Tower’s structural form, the Octahedron is a delicate little seating piece that acts like a sturdy farm stool. Designed initially for a restaurant space at the Ojai Rancho Inn, the stool is now available for all of us to purchase.
Faraday Chair and Stool by Teun Fleskens
Designed to be fabricated with as little material as possible while still maintaining structural integrity and a comfortable seat, the Faraday Chair is a thoroughly modern version of the Eiffel Tower in both style and vision.
The Tote, by Serie Architects – Mumbai, India
Inspired by the existing canopy of trees shading the site, Serie Architects designed a banquet hall, reception room, restaurant and bar space using I-shaped steel columns to mimic the natural elements just outside.
Arborism by Nosigner
Though the structural principle behind Nosigner’s Arborism furniture series is similar to the Eiffel Tower’s, it channels the biophiliac aesthetic of The Tote project, with the same gorgeous results. Again utilizing an all-white palette, Nosigner creates a complete seating and dining collection that turns an open space into a forest of slender trees.
Sinosteel International Plaza, by Mad Architects – Tianjin, China
Honeycomb structural systems have often been used for small-scale structures, but the translation to large-scale architecture hasn’t been achieved quite yet. In 2008, the Beijing-based firm MAD Architects designed the Sinosteel International Plaza, a mixed-use tower in Tianjin, China.
Chick and Egg Chairs, by Responsive Design
Whereas the Sinosteel International Plaza derives its stability from its honeycomb shell, the Chick and Egg Chairs use the honeycomb (or waffle, as Responsive Design prefers to use) structure as its core – well, really its entire being.
Metropol Parasol, by Jurgen Mayer-hermann
Seville, Spain – 2011
Another project utilizing a waffle grid system, the Metropol Parasol is also an example of the expansive possibilities of this type of structure, though not without considerable cost overruns and time delays due to expensive engineering. Built with Finnish birch wood because of the variety’s stout and straight qualities, the Parasol encapsulates several different public city spaces, including an open-air plaza, an antiquarium (which preserves and displays ancient ruins discovered during construction of the site’s former project, since abandoned in favor of the Parasol), terraces and meandering upper-level walkways, and a restaurant.
The name may be a bit cheeky, but the FlexibleLove line of expandable and foldable recycled paper and wood seating rises to the top of the recent wave of honeycomb furniture lines. And their White 16 version – made with a combination of virgin white kraft paper and post-industrial wood waste that give it a sleek bright white look – is about as clean and elegant as flexible furniture can get.
Klein Bottle House, by Mcbride Charles Ryan
Mornington Peninsula, Australia – 2008
Origami has been around for centuries at a handheld scale, but architectural firm McBride Charles Ryan uses the sharp structural visual of origami and translates it into both the exterior and interior character of this house in Australia.
Monolith Tables by Desinere
Through a “serendipitous” process of folding and refolding, Filipino firm Desinere created tables that appear to ever-so-lightly rest on delicate metal points, like ballet dancers en pointe.
Ori Sto Stool by Jakub Piotr Kalinowski
The charm in this folded metal stool is its ability to be stacked in neat little towers, like freshly-pressed take-out boxes or paper cups.
Museum of Aviation and Aviation Exhibition Park, by Pysall.ruge Architekten + Bartlomiej Kisielewski
Krakow, Poland – 2010
A volume of glass delicately wrapped in concrete, the Museum of Aviation plays with the solid and the transparent. Similar to Nervi’s ability to transform concrete into a floating canopy, here the architects reimagined concrete as a sheet of paper, gently folded just enough to shelter the spaces below.
LACEscape Table by Roman Vlahovic
Evoking similar lines as the concrete origami of the Museum of Aviation, the LACEscape Table also plays with the concept of solid and void inherent to its materiality. Powder-coated steel is perforated with patterns taken from traditional Croatian lace, truly making the table feel like a carefully folded piece of exquisite fabric.
How often do you think about expressive structure in your interiors practice? Did we miss a structural philosophy that reads well in furniture or product design?