Curvecrete: Changing the Footprint of Concrete

By Paul Loh with Aengus Cassidy

Researchers from Melbourne school of design, led by Paul Loh, have developed an adjustable mould frame for casting doubly curved concrete panels. With the increased use of computation tools in architectural design, architects and designers are increasingly integrating the use of complex curved surfaces in their designs.

Producing bespoke and variable panels makes buildings distinctive and raises their perceived value both commercially and aesthetically. These striking design possibilities are beyond the scope of  most construction projects, as double- curved panels are made using expensive, complicated and specialised techniques.

Today, large, customised equipment with expensive maintenance, such as CNC machines, 3D printers, incremental formers and multi-pin moulds are used to make casting moulds for double-curved elements. Moulds typically made from expanded polystyrene foam are often discarded after use, contributing to the embodied energy of the project and generating significant construction waste. Similarly, robotic 3D printing and milling processes allow casting of doubly curved concrete panels to reduce construction waste but typically require a specialist skill in operation and the procedure is significantly time-consuming.

PAM (Parametric Adjustable Mould), the bespoke computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine developed at the University of Melbourne allows simple, precise fabrication of elements with any double-curved shape, using a flexible, low-cost material that is understood by builders worldwide: reinforced concrete. Consisting of a single adjustable mould frame, PAM interprets digital information from a panelised surface to actuate the mould into desired positions for concrete casting.

Once cured, the concrete panel is removed from the mould with no immediate waste.

This technology eliminates the need for individually unique mould design in the manufacturing of curved panels, reducing manufacturing waste and improving cost efficiency. It makes fabricating double-curved construction elements affordable to a wide range of construction projects due to the significantly reduced mechanical part in the system, resulting in a lower capital cost.

Australia produces 24 million cubic metres of concrete annually, 10% of which is pre-cast concrete1. Formwork, the mould into which concrete is poured, typically constitutes up to 15% of the weight (approx 0.9 million tonnes) of total waste from concrete usage. Currently, PAM is designed to produce non-structural panels for external cladding or interior use. If this technology can service 25% of market demand for pre-cast concrete it could save a projected 225,000 tonnes of waste in formwork annually. This is equivalent to  the waste created by 112,500 Australians per annum, or comparatively, the entire population of Ballarat.

In receiving support from the Translating Research at Melbourne program and Wade Institute, the PAM research and technology has been geared toward commercialisation with Curvecrete born as a start up through this inquiry. Curvecrete was shortlisted in the 2019 Melbourne Design Week ‘NGV Victorian Design Challenge’ inviting design professionals and students to tackle the challenge of ‘waste’.

One of five professional firms shortlisted for the design challenge, the Curvecrete team, in collaboration with RMIT industrial designers Marcus Cher, Paul Meeuwsen and Travis Gemmill, centered their proposal around the concept for a chair manufactured using PAM’s innovative fabrication techniques. Titled Superleggera (Italian for Superlight), the design demonstrated the functionality of  PAM in its ability to produce refined  decor alongside large scale industrial manufacturing.

Bested by the strong design of a competitor at NGV Design Challenge, the momentum behind Curvecrete continues unabated. Recently accepted into the Melbourne Accelerator Program, this opportunity will provide an expanded support network, additional mentors for the Curvecrete team and allow for a concerted focus on growth and commercialisation. Keep your eyes open for Curvecrete in the coming months.

1 Cement Concrete and Aggregates Australia, 2010

The Curvecrete project team and collaborators on stage at the NGV during the Victorian Design Challenge
The Curvecrete project team and collaborators on stage at the NGV during the Victorian Design Challenge. Photo by Aengus Cassidy

Project Team:

Paul Loh Lecturer in Digital Architecture at the Melbourne School of Design. He is a partner of LLDS Architects and a unique micro-manufacturing facility, Power to Make. Paul is also a director of the Architectural Research Laboratory.

Daniel Prohasky is an Architectural Engineer and Roboticist. He is the Innovation Fellow at Swinburne University | Faculty of Health, Arts and Design.

Warren Rudd is a Chartered Accountant and Master of Entrepreneurship graduate (from the Wade Institute, University of Melbourne).

The team acknowledges the contribution of David Leggett (Power to Make / Architectural Research Lab) as one of the key inventors for the PAM technology.

Banner image: Curvecrete prototype on display at the ARUP Melbourne office during Melbourne Design Week by James Rafferty.