Timbrel Vaults

Bricktopia Timbrel Vaults


MAP 13, Bricktopia Timbrel vaults pavilion

First introduced in the 17th century through the master builders of Italy, the timbrel vault became part of the heritage of traditional construction in eastern Spain. Nevertheless, it was in the United States much later on, towards the end of the 19th century, that the so-called Catalan vault, developed by the Valencian architect Rafael Guastavino and his Guastavino System, would reach the height of its splendor in the eclectic grand buildings of the period.

The constuctive principle behind the volta catalana is simple: it consists in arranging slightly parabolic surfaces with two or three layers of bricks laid on their flat part – that bordered by the header and the stretcher of the piece – instead of on their thick side. This unique geometry makes it possible to cover broad spans (as much as six meters) efficiently, with no need even for falseworks, because the bricks are put on plaster that hardens fast, and also because they are self-supporting during execution phase.

With the objective of reviving the tradition of the Catalan arch, the international collective MAP13 has developed Bricktopia, a pilot pavilion that was presented at the last International Architecture Festival of Barcelona. It is a vaulted construction made of brick using a traditional building technique known as tile-vault, whose loadbearing performance has been pushed to the limits by means of new calculation softwares that optimize the structure through geometry, in particular RhinoVault, which is a plug-in of the Rhinoceros program.

Like the slabs and stairs of traditional building, or like the slender surfaces of the Guastavino System, the ceramic folds of the Bricktopia pavilion have been materialized with the collaboration of excellent builders, who in the process have demonstrated that the technique can in future be a building tool not only in the industrialized West but, because it is versatile and low-cost, in developing countries as well.

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