Erecting gridshells with air

ALESSANDRO LIUTI - PHD Completion Seminar

Japanese Room, Level 4, MSD Building

Simulations and technology


Lightweight structures enable covering large spans with little material. These structures feature a wide range of tectonic systems; each system features advantages and shortcomings in both the design and the materialisation stages – often imposing laborious and unsustainable construction processes. The literature shows similarities in the evolution of reinforced concrete shells, discrete vaults, tensile structures, and cable-net structures spatial trusses, elastic gridshells. This research deepens the family of elastic gridshells – which are initially assembled flat, and later elastically bent into a form-resistant geometry. This construction process makes erection the most critical phase of the entire life of a gridshell; however, currently available erection methods feature several shortcomings – such as low sustainability, scarce precision, difficult or replicability, or heavy reliance on workforce.

Inspired by the gridshells advancements of Frei Otto’s, and the pneumatic forming of Dante Bini’s, this research develops an erection technique for elastic gridshells, which is based on an uplifting pneumatic falsework, and a real-time control system. The system aims to bridge design and construction through 1:1 form-finding. Using the tools of Operational Research, the problem is formulated, simulated, and handled through both digital and analytical prototyping; the proposed methodolody was applied to the construction of a 1:1 prototype, the Airshell gridshell.


Adriaenssens, S., Block, P., Veerendaal, D., & Williams, C. (2014). Shells for Architecture, Form Finding and Optimization.

Chilton, J., & Tang, G. (2017). Timber gridshells. Architecture, structure and craft: New York : Routledge, 2017.

Knippers, J., Cremers, J., Gabler, M., & Lienhard, J. (2011). Construction manual for polymers+ membranes.

Liuti, A., Pugnale, A., & Colabella, S. (2017). The Airshell prototype: a timber gridshell erected through a pneumatic formwork. International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) Annual Symposium “Interfaces:”, Hamburg, Germany.

Liuti, A., Pugnale, A., & D'Amico, B. (2016). Building timber gridshells with air: Numerical simulations and technique challenges. 3rd International Conference on Structures and Architecture (ICSA).

Liuti, A., & Pugnale, A. (2015). Erection of post-formed gridshells by means of inflatable membrane technology. 49th International Conference of the Architectural Science Association (ASA) "Living and Learning: Research for a Better Built Environment", Melbourne.

Seidel, M., & Sturge, D. S. (2009). Tensile Surface Structures: A Practical Guide to Cable and Membrane Construction. Hoboken: Wiley

Presented by:

Allessandro Liuti
PhD Graduate Researcher
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning


Dr Stanislav Roudavski


Dr Alberto Pugnale
Dr Toong-Khuan Chan