Actuated Matter Workshop Part 2: Glass Fiber Reinforced Plastic
Even thinking about glass fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP) makes me itchy. The reason for this is that the glass strands involved with this material are so fine (by which I mean that they are extremely thin and tiny, rather than that they are really really ridiculously good looking) that they get caught in your skin and clothes and become profoundly irritating, after the manner of a wood splinter or Brett Favre.
Image courtesy taiwan.xpshou.com
At the Actuated Matter Workshop in Zurich, we were introduced to a particular configuration of GFRP developed by Loop.pH, which I have dubbed, “Lo-mein GFRP” due to its noodle-esque appearance. The material is much stronger and stiffer than pasta, however, which allowed us to bend it into circles and secure the shapes with small brass tubes. I found out that if you bend Lo-mein GFRP too far, it fails spectacularly, emitting a quiet yet somehow disdainful pfffffft noise and spraying glass fibers everywhere like needle-sharp, toxic fairy dust.
GFRP circles can be intertwined and woven into a kind of structural textile that can take various forms according to the number of circles combined in any particular configuration. For example: if you take one circle and surround it with five other circles and connect all of them, you will produce a spherical construction; if you surround your starting circle with six other circles you get a flat surface; and if you ring your circle of origination with seven other circles you will achieve a floppy but endearing hyperbolic paraboloid (aka saddle shape).
Spheres, circles, and saddles can be combined to form almost any surface you can imagine, from a column (a flat sheet, rolled into a cylinder) to a triply periodic minimal surface constructed entirely of conjoined saddles. The construction we built at the workshop to support our sound, light, and movement modules was a just this sort of minimal surface, and it was glorious.
Invisible itchy splinters aside, I enjoyed working with GFRP because it’s lightweight, extremely strong, and delightfully robust. It’s not as strong or as stiff as carbon fiber but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and it’s much less brittle. The material is commonly used for boats (holla!), automobiles, hot tubs, water tanks, roofing, pipes, cladding and external door skins, and less commonly it is used to make interactive architecture.
Please check out this video featuring the final installation and make it a great day!
I filed GFRP under wood because it’s bendy and fibrous. And because I call the shots around here.