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5- Mechanism Theory in Architecture Education

Mechanism Theory in Architecture Education
M. Barej, S. Hoffmann, G. Della Puppa, M. Hüsing, B. Corves
and M. Trautz
Abstract In mechanical engineering tasks concerning motion and moving parts are
very common, thus of course topics like kinematics and mechanism theory are content of teaching in various lectures, exercises and laboratories. At RWTH Aachen
University besides mandatory basic courses for all engineering students, continuative courses for students specialized on engineering design or automotive engineering
impart profound knowledge. In architecture education the focus lies on the design
of buildings in consideration of social, functional, esthetical and statical aspects.
Although due to the demand of sustainable and adapting buildings the importance
of deployable structures and kinematic parts is increasing, these topics are rarely
found in education. Suitable opportunities to bring interested prospective architects
in touch with mechanism theory are design projects scheduled for master students.
Following an existing cooperation in the research field of foldable structures the
Chair of Structures and Structural Design (Faculty of Architecture) and the Department of Mechanism Theory and Dynamics of Machines (Faculty of Mechanical
Engineering) offered in the winter semester 2012/13 an interdisciplinary task of
M. Barej (B) · M. Hüsing · B. Corves
Department of Mechanism Theory and Dynamics of Machines, RWTH Aachen University,
Aachen, Germany
e-mail: [email protected]
M. Hüsing
e-mail: [email protected]
B. Corves
e-mail: [email protected]
S. Hoffmann · G. Della Puppa · M. Trautz
Chair of Structures and Structural Design, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany
e-mail: [email protected]
G. Della Puppa
e-mail: [email protected]
M. Trautz
e-mail: [email protected]
J. C. García-Prada and C. Castejón (eds.), New Trends in Educational Activity
in the Field of Mechanism and Machine Theory, Mechanisms and Machine Science 19,
DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-01836-2_30, © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014
M. Barej et al.
designing a foldable bridge to a group of architecture students. The focus of this
student project was on the design of a new foldable bridge, but in order to enable
the students to solve this unusual task some preliminary activities were performed.
The project started with analyses and presentations of existing solutions followed by
lectures and workshops providing contents from architecture, arts and mechanism
theory. Observations of the project showed that thanks to this preparation students
considered kinematic issues as well as architectural ones from the very beginning.
The aim of this paper is to present how mechanism theory can be integrated into
Interdisciplinary education, which content the authors consider being important for
students and which influence can be observed in students’ results.
Keywords Interdisciplinarity in education · Architectural design · Student project ·
Movable structures
1 Introduction
Tasks and challenges for mechanical engineers often contain the design and development of kinematical parts and mechanisms. Therefore students of mechanical engineering are prepared for solving these motion related tasks from the very beginning
of their studies. This preparation is provided by lessons and exercises considering
among other issues kinematics, dynamics as well as the choice and calculation of
machine elements like screws, bearings or drive belts.
Since in architecture moving parts are not that common, here issues concerning motion play a subordinate role in education. Today besides singular functional
demands also global aims like adaptability or sustainability force architects more and
more to deal with deployable structures. Challenges set by moving parts in architectural scale have to be faced by interdisciplinary teams, but this cooperation requires
some preparation and previous knowledge.
In order to bring this into architecture education the authors offered the task of
designing a deployable bridge as design project for master students of architecture.
This paper presents this interdisciplinary educational project, the requested and the
offered support, the students’ outcomes and the results of an evaluation performed
2 Design Project ‘Rheinhafenbrücke’
A design project typically is the main semester task of an architecture student during
the master course [1]. Project skills, abilities, methods and individual understanding
of design are taught during the course of the project. Thereby designing is conceived
as the integrality of planning, arranging, constructing and reflecting.
Mechanism Theory in Architecture Education
Fig. 1 Model of Existing Bridges: a Diffené-Bridge in Mannheim reconstructed by H. Wen
b ‘Buckelbrücke’ in Duisburg reconstructed by S. Hussain
The task of a design project consists of two subtasks, a seminar (3 CP) and the
project (15 CP). The seminar is thematically leant against the project task and is
meant to give the individual student deeper background knowledge in the issue of
the particular field of action, usually by the analysis of built examples. The project
consists of developing a design which has to take functional, architectural and urbanistic aspects into account. At project end the students have to present their results in
kind of drawings, models, visualizations by photos and renderings and, if necessary
by textual explanations. After each presentation the lecturers ask questions and give
critical suggestions. The grades given to the students are based on fulfillment of the
given task by the student’s design, on the degree of detail but also on the quality of
the presented models and posters.
The project ‘Rheinhafenbrücke’ was proposed at RWTH Aachen University in the
winter term 2012/13. Within this project a transformable pedestrian bridge had to be
designed. It was supposed to have a span length of 60 m and a width of approximately
2.4 m.
The students could select out of two proposed building sites, the ‘Medienhafen’
in Düsseldorf and the culture island in the ‘Phönixsee’ in Dortmund. Due to the
complexity of the task it was not mandatory but recommended that the students
work in teams of two persons. The design project was supervised weekly by the
scientific assistants, architects and engineers, of the Chair of Structures and Structural
Design. Moreover, three intermediate colloquia were held with all participants and
all tutors, in which the work items were discussed and advanced. Furthermore once
a week a seminar with the topic ‘Transformable Structures’ was performed. Here
students mainly analyzed examples of transformable bridges, e.g. [2, 3], but also
dealt with Origami topics. They were asked to build movable models of both Origami
and architecture examples (Fig. 1). By this way an intuitive greater understanding
of transformable structures was obtained. At the end of the semester, the students
presented their projects in a final exam colloquium. Some of the outcomes are shown
in Chap. 4.
3 Complementary Teaching Activities
Since the proposed task was unusual for architecture students, complementary teaching activities were necessary. The educational concept was supplemented by optional
lessons and workshops as well as additional mentoring in order to provide supporting
M. Barej et al.
content. These offers pursued three different objectives: inspiration, qualification and
Inspiration is necessary to help the students in designing innovative motion concepts. Therefore examples from different application fields and from the Japanese
art of paper folding Origami have been provided. As a guest lecturer the Origamiscientist Tomohiro Tachi offered a talk about ‘Computational Design of Origami
Form’ including a lot of folding patterns and visualizations. Further he held a workshop concerning ‘Rigid Origami Structures’, in which he presented some of his
models and software tools [4] for the simulation and analysis of rigid Origami [5].
Afterwards the students had the opportunity to try out the software as well as manual
paper folding (Fig. 2a).
After the students have developed their own idea or vision of a deployable bridge
it was time to enhance their qualification. Since this project was situated in the master
program it was estimated that the students were familiar with basics of architecture
and structural engineering. Therefore topics typical for mechanical engineering and
mechanism theory were required. These issues were provided in two presentations
titled ‘Best of Mechanism Theory’ and ‘Desired and Undesired Motion’. Two presentations cannot be sufficient to impart all necessary knowledge. Especially since
the students designs were strongly different causing different questions and requiring
different assistance. The aim of these presentations was to give hints about expected
problems and approaches for related solutions. Initially different types of mechanisms and joints, application fields for mechanism theory and the design process for
mechanisms were introduced. Those students who still were looking for inspiration
and required more examples of existing mechanisms were relegated to appropriate literature and the ‘Digital Mechanism and Gear Library’ [6]. Furthermore methods for
analysis as well as for structural and dimensional synthesis were presented [7]. Here
the focus lied on planar mechanisms and graphical methods. To enable the students
to model and analyze their kinematical concepts intuitively at an early design phase
‘Cinderella’ [8] was proposed as a helpful tool (Fig. 2b). Besides contents related to
Fig. 2 Complementary Teaching Activities: a Origami-Workshop with T. Tachi, b Screenshot of
a Construction in Cinderella
Mechanism Theory in Architecture Education
the design and concept phase also first hints concerning the technical realization of
joints or bearings were given. In the second lecture the focus was on contents related
to machine dynamics. Topics like actuation concepts, motion design, occurring forces
or vibrations were treated. Although these aspects were beyond the students’ task
their mention sensibilized the participants for further technical problems.
The third objective: supervision was achieved by the attendance of a mechanical
engineer within the regular sessions and colloquia. In this way the students had
the opportunity to receive feedback and discuss specific problems concerning their
kinematic concepts.
4 Student’s Outcomes
Inspired by the analysis of existing bridges as well as by the mechanisms and Origamibased structures presented within the complementary teaching activities the students’
designs follow very different concepts. Not only the appearances but also the complexities of developed structures differ strongly, as depicted in Fig. 3.
Among the solutions there are designs based on planar mechanisms with degrees
of freedom equal to one (Fig. 3d) or two (Fig. 3a). In some concepts the reduction of
actuating forces by use of counterbalances is intended (Fig. 3c, e). Other designs use
serial structures and require sequential (Fig. 3b) or combined actuation (Fig. 3g). In
one of the concepts even a spatial mechanism based on Origami is applied (Fig. 3f).
Further differentiating factors are the choice of electric motors or hydraulic cylinders
as actuators and the transmission of actuating forces by rigid links or by cables.
5 Evaluation
Since this is the first time such an interdisciplinary educational project was offered
to students the evaluation is essential for the preparation of following projects in
coming semesters. Therefore on the one hand students have been asked to review
the project in complete but also the optional offers themselves. On the other hand
based on the student’s results the lecturers reviewed which contents had the expected
benefit and if further content is necessary.
5.1 Student’s View
Nine out of fourteen students agreed to participate in a voluntary and anonymous
evaluation, which was carried out before the final exam colloquium. This point
in time was chosen with the intention that the grades do not influence the rating.
M. Barej et al.
Fig. 3 Students’ Outcomes: a A. Gibas, b J. A. García Poveda, c I. Llana García, A. Martin Barreiro,
d L. Merk, H. Wen, e A. Leoni, K. Longhi, f M. Schwab, g D. Sauerbrey, C. Schröder
A questionnaire was handed out, consisting of multiple choice questions and space
for own suggestions.
Table 1 contains essential results of the evaluation. The first three courses were
open to a greater audience and were held beyond the schedule of the design project.
That might be the reason why these additional offers were less frequented. The fact
that only one student decided to base his design project on Origami-principles may
explain the stated relatively low relevance of these topics for the students’ concepts.
The two events ‘Lecture about Mechanism Theory’ and ‘Colloquia’ took place during
the normal timetable and only the participants of the project ‘Rheinhafenbrücke’ were
allowed to attend. In both, the lecture and the colloquia, they had the opportunity to
ask specific questions concerning their own designs. This might be an explication
for the good grades given by the students.
Table 2 contains the students’ suggestions for improvements. From this prospect
it can be derived that the participating students request more practical, constructive
assistance. From students’ view the amount of information about abstract, artistically
inspiring topics was sufficient.
Mechanism Theory in Architecture Education
Table 1 Results of evaluation by students (5—very strong / 1—very weak)
Lecture about origami
Origami workshop
Lecture about motion
Lecture about mechanism theory
Ø 3,2
Ø 2,5
Ø 3,8
Ø 4,6
Ø 4,3
Table 2 Students’
suggestions for improvements
(5—very strong / 1—very
More practical examples (Bridges)
More origami
More other transformable constructions
More structural synthesis
More dimensional synthesis
More construction details
Ø 4,1
Ø 2,6
Ø 3,9
Ø 3,9
Ø 3,8
Ø 4,5
It can be stated that the most relevant outcomes of the evaluation are the need
for compliance of the additional offers with the schedule and the demand for more
technical supervision.
5.2 Lecturer’s View
The overall level of the works showed on the one hand the promising potential of
kinematical issues in architecture students’ projects; on the other hand it suggests
directions of further development for a future continuation of the activity. With the
final stand of their works, the participants have proved to be able to assume reviews
from external technical areas as from mechanical engineering and to implement
suggestions for improvement. The extension of the didactical content to a wider
explanation of machinery elements is supposed to bring an enhancement in students’
design choice.
Furthermore the great contribution in terms of creativity and spontaneity that was
brought in by the students should be integrated from the early stage of the activity in a
more synthetic view, translating the concept design into simple functional schemes of
mechanism. To achieve this didactical goal, a more intensive presence of a mechanical
engineering tutor at early stages of supervision sessions is likely to be profitable.
M. Barej et al.
6 Conclusions
The presented concept for an interdisciplinary inspired design project in architecture
education gives students the opportunity to deal with contents which are typically
beyond the topics of their studies. The project’s outcomes, the student’s dedication
and their feed-back show the high interest for this type of projects. Based on the positive experience gained within this project it is desirable to continue this cooperation.
From the mechanical engineer’s point of view movable structures in architecture
build a fascinating field of application for mechanism theory. For this reason it is to
examine how to integrate students of mechanical engineering into the next design
project. This would give students of both faculties the chance to collaborate continuously in an interdisciplinary team and thereby to enhance their knowledge as well
as their social skills.
However the great interest aroused among the students on such topics represents
a positive feedback on their behalf and suggests a positive outlook for the establishment of a continuative collaboration between the institutes in didactical activities,
alongside the already experimented common research path.
Acknowledgments The authors want to thank T. Tachi for the inspiration provided by his lecture
and workshop as well as the Exploratory Research Space at RWTH Aachen University for making
his visit possible.
1. RWTH Aachen University: Description of examination regulations: M.Sc. in, Architecture
2. Freudenberg, G.: Zwei neue Waagebalken-Klappbrücken in Mannheim. In: Stahlbau 2/1989,
pp. 35–43 (1989)
3. Bühler, D.: Brückenbau, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH (2004)
4. http://www.tsg.ne.jp/TT/software/, Accessed 13 Mar 2013
5. Tachi T.: Simulation of rigid origami. In Origami: Peters A.K. (eds.) Proceedings of 4OSME,
pp. 175–187 (2009)
6. http://www.dmg-lib.org/dmglib/main/portal.jsp?context_setLangCode=en, Accessed 13 Mar
7. Kerle, H., Corves, B., Hüsing, M.: Getriebetechnik. Vieweg+Teubner (2011)
8. http://www.cinderella.de/tiki-index.php, Accessed 14 Mar 2013
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