La Volta Porosa

In the context of constructing funicular shell structures, thin-tile vaulting is advantageous because of its formal flexibility, material efficiency, and reduction, if-not elimination of formwork, compared to other brick or voussoir-based vaulting techniques. This paper presents research on contemporary thin-tile vaulting, demonstrated through a large-scale prototype structure that minimizes the use of wasted formwork by capitalizing on the inherent properties of the historic technique. Autoclave-aerated concrete (AAC) bricks, whose porous body help maximize cohesion between masonry units and gypsum mortar, were laid over a flexible fiberglass “spline” guide-work system, which offered significant advantages – pushing the limits of compression-only structures that can be built efficiently, without compromising a desire for building evocative forms.
The last decade has seen a strong revival of free-form, Guastavino-inspired vault structures that often require custom-made, continuous formwork schemes that cannot be re-used. Such extensive formwork is counter-intuitive to tile-vaulting and brings to light the ethical and essential imperative to find ways of building vault structures that are not overly complex or wasteful. This paper will discuss the “Volta Porosa” prototype, its innovative combination of traditional methods with emerging and lightweight materials, as well as the design and construction process of which relied on an intuition for tile-laying sequencing and geometries that are partially self-supporting during construction. Ultimately, this paper presents a counter-narrative to recent trends in masonry research by promoting methods of creative structural design that produce a range of forms that are evocative yet can be built simply, efficiently, and with little waste.

Link to full paper “Tile Vaulting with Lightweight Concrete and Fiberglass Spline Formwork” 

Welding and Forging Pavilion - MITCambridge, MA 2015/2016

Design and Construction Team:
Jonathan Dessi-Olive
Nick Krouwel 

Project Advisers:
Mark West
John Ochsendorf

Additional Acknowledgements: La Volta Porosa is the result of a highly collaborative effort during a 2015 workshop supported by the TODA Fund in Building Technology at MIT. The authors would like to thank Chris Dewart who specified the design criteria for the vault and generously provided space for this construction research. We gratefully acknowledge Richard Aeck and Yundong Yang for their contributions in the process. Finally, we thank Stacy Krieg, Megan Mallory, Borislav Angelov, Jamie Ferrell, and Frankie Perone for helping with construction.

Other Projects:
all work by Jonathan Dessi-Olive unless otherwise noted.  © 2019 all rights reserved.