Strength in Togetherness

Strength in Togetherness

Justin Diles, Lefevre Fellow at the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University, recently mounted an exhibition of an innovative project, an FRP wall molded in multiple pieces of irregular, blobular forms that slide together in a way that gains structural strength while being held together only by friction.

from the Ohio State University website:


The freestanding walls featured in the exhibition Eigenforms explore how latent structural failure principles can be employed to design richly dimensional architectural surfaces and volumes. The patterning of the models specifically incorporates buckling, a mathematical instability leading to failure modes with complex sinusoidal deformations. The revolutionary Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler was the first to capture this phenomenon with an equation in 1757. With contemporary finite element method (FEM) analysis programs, structural engineers regularly use computational implementations of Euler’s insights to study how structures may fail. Through his LeFevre-supported research, KSA Fellow Justin Diles has employed these same methods to determine how the signature deformations of buckling can be used to design intricate, puzzle-like tectonic assemblies. The black and white patterns of the exhibition models track the multiple failure modes—referred to as Eigenmodes in FEM simulation tools—brought together in each study. The resulting surfaces—portions of buckling modes grafted into new assemblies—are held together only by friction along structural flanges and freely slide apart into individual pieces. Provisionally stable, these configurations are evocative of the instability lurking within any architectural structure.

Precise fabrication procedures were required to realize the complexly-curved sinusoidal forms of the exhibition models. The components of the small models are made from 3D-printed plastic—manually-finished and painted—and the components of the large Eigenform wall are made from contemporary composite materials. Carbon fiber and E-glass reinforcement and high-strength epoxy resin were laid-up by hand in expanded polystyrene foam molds—each individually cut with the KSA Fabrication Lab’s 3-axis CNC mill—to produce parts that have a tolerance of 1/32” along joining seams. White components, each produced in a single open-faced mold, are open on one side; black components, closed volumes, required two molds to produce pieces that were fused into hollow shells. The interplay of open and closed volumes within the structure highlights the multiple possible readings of the studies: closed, thick and massive versus open, laminar and light. Despite their (often) massive appearance, the individual components of the large Eigenform wall are very lightweight. The individual elements achieve exceptional strength and stiffness relative to their mass when joined in the overall assembly.


The LeFevre Fellowship is awarded annually to an architect who is just beginning to make their mark on the profession. It affords the practitioner a platform to develop their research, culminating in spring semester with a public lecture and monograph or exhibition in the Banvard Gallery. Justin Diles, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, is the KSA’s LeFevre Fellow in residence during the 2012-13 academic year.

Eigenforms: Justin Diles
Banvard Gallery / Knowlton Hall
April 3, 2013 – 5:00pm to August 30, 2013 – 5:00pm


The KSA Banvard Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM and is free and open to the public. The Gallery is located on the first floor of Knowlton Hall on the campus of The Ohio State University.

images via OSU and Justin Diles