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Mass to Membrane: Nic Goldsmith

Nic Goldsmith

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In Mass to Membrane, Nic Goldsmith—principal of FTL Design Engineering Studio—presents the continuing evolution of building materials, from heavy stone structures to luminous, lightweight, flexible and environmentally responsible structures. Through nine narrative chapters, which sample from Goldsmith’s own extensive portfolio of lightweight tensile structures, the book explores how we can use less material and be more sustainable through the employment of new composite materials, computation analysis and digital patterning.

In Western culture, from an early age we are ingrained with the notion that weight in building construction equals strength. The classic tale “The Three Little Pigs” features anthropomorphic pigs that build three houses of different materials. A big bad wolf is able to blow down the first two pigs’ houses, made of straw and wood, but is unable to destroy the third pig’s house, made of bricks. This idea of the relative strength of mass pervades our culture as a fundamental truth, but heavy materials are not intrinsically stronger than lighter ones.

While time will be needed to remove the biases that we carry in our cultural DNA, our perception of strength has begun to shift. If we look at the historical evolution of architecture—from the massive pyramids of Egypt and the framed structures of Greek and Roman construction, to the lighter Gothic vaulting and eventually modern architecture of the twentieth century—we see a continuous, almost linear progression from solid mass construction to diaphanous skins of glass and steel. This is our historic journey from mass to membrane.

At a time when we are on the cusp of developing even lighter building technologies that will become more prevalent over the next generation, Mass to Membrane weaves together a forward-looking story of an everchanging built environment, paving the way to a better understanding of the possibilities inherent in new building technologies.

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