New materials require new design and construction methods. Even old materials are being continually developed with new properties that challenge the way we use them. A recent cycle of innovations has led to concretes with considerable and effective elastic limit in tension and flexural strength. The possibility to design in concrete as a single orthotropic material with both tensile and compressive properties create an opportunity for new products but also require new design approaches.

Topology optimization as an architectural design tool is largely unexplored, in contrast to its wide use in the field of mechanical engineering. Topologically optimized shapes are fundamentally different from standard structural shapes and require highly customized means of fabrication. The resulting members can be lighter, use less material, yet still be as strong. Perhaps of greatest importance is the observation that the topologically optimized shape simultaneously manifests a structural optimum and an emergent aesthetic.

This presentation will introduce the basics of structural topology optimization, existing software, and show how it was used in architectural technology coursework. The assignment in view, given to intermediate architectural students, is to design and optimize a structural beam and to subsequently fabricate it in ultra-high-performance concrete using consumer level CNC-milling of polystyrene casting formwork. Computer stress simulations were compared to physical crush tests.

An increasing number of architects and engineers are well-versed in emerging digital fabrication and computation technologies. The presentation will posit that the materials with emerging properties and accessible computation tools provide a platform for both architects and engineers to engage in the problem of combining structural efficiency and aesthetic.