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There is an increasing focus on sustainability in design, backed up by carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets. The low embodied energy of concrete by volume is offset by its rate of consumption which make the manufacture of cement accountable for some 5% of global CO2 emissions.
Concrete is a fluid that offers the opportunity to economically create structures of almost any geometry – we can pour concrete into a mould of almost any shape. This fluidity is seldom utilise, with concrete instead being poured into rigid moulds to create high material use structures with large carbon footprints. The ubiquitous use of orthogonal moulds as concrete formwork has resulted in a well-established vocabulary of prismatic forms for concrete structures, yet such rigid formwork systems must resist considerable pressures and consume significant amounts of material. Moreover, the resulting member requires more material and has a greater self-weight than one cast with a variable cross section.
Simple optimisation methodsmay be used to design a variable cross section member in which the flexural and shear capacity at any point along the element length reflects the requirements of the loading envelope applied to it.
By replacing conventional moulds with a flexible system composed primarily of low cost fabric sheets, flexible formwork takes advantage of the fluidity of concrete to create highly optimised, architecturally interesting, building forms. Significant material savings can be achieved. The optimised section provides ultimate limit state capacity while reducing embodied carbon, thus improving the life cycle performance of the entire structure.
Control of the flexibly formed beam cross section is key to achieving low-material use design. The basic assumption is that a sheet of flexible, permeable fabric is held in a system of falsework before reinforcement and concrete are added. By varying the geometry of the fabric mould with distance along the beam, the optimised shape is created. Flexible formwork therefore has the potential to facilitate the change in design and construction philosophy that will be required for a move towards a less material intensive, more sustainable, construction industry. Its potential is further demonstrated in work by Lee.
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Further information can be found online.
Professor Mark West – http://www.umanitoba.ca/cast_building/ The Second International Conference on Flexible Formwork – http://www.icff2012.co.uk