Like titanium, everyone loves carbon fiber, but they usually love it in small doses. That’s because both materials are also amazingly expensive. Due to the high raw material cost, carbon fiber tends to be used in constructing small things, or larger things where the strength-to-weight ratio outweighs any cost concerns – like aerospace applications, high performance racing boats, and luxury car parts. Carbon fiber is used in construction for engineering purposes, where a structure such as a bridge needs to be reinforced on its surface, and the cost of the material is dwarfed by the cost of the alternative: to rebuild the entire structure. Glass fiber composite has been used on a large scale in many architectural applications from compact portable shelters to large scale multistory facades. But if you look for carbon fiber buildings, most of them exist only as conceptual designs and futuristic proposals.
But now, there’s the roof of the theater in Apple’s new campus in Silicon Valley. Apple believes it is the largest self-supporting carbon fiber roof ever built anywhere, at least on Earth. It was recently installed, an Apple released photos of it that have a strong flying-saucer resemblance.
The roof is 140 feet in diameter, and weighs about 80 tons. If that seems heavy for carbon fiber, consider that a concrete roof of the same diameter and just 6 inches thick – assuming such a roof could support its own weight, which it probably couldn’t – would weigh approximately 539 tons. That’s almost 7 times as much.
The roof is made of 44 radial panels, each 70 feet long. They were made by Premier Composites, of Dubai, and were assembled and tested at the factory. Then they were disassembled, shipped to the jobsite in Ca;ifornia, joined onsite, and hoisted into position over the glass walls of the theater lobby.
The theater itself is underground, below the lobby, covering about 120,000 square feet and seating 1000 people. It’s where Apple plans to hold future product unveilings.
Apple has been responsible for several innovations of historical, worldwide significance. Now, maybe add to the list: proving that large-scale carbon fiber construction can, under some circumstances, make sense.
Images by Apple Inc, via Mashable.com.