Experimental architect Achim Menges, along with Moritz Dörstelmann, structural engineer Jan Knippers and climate engineer Thomas Auer have developed a robotically woven carbon fiber pavilion that is now on display at London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum’s John Madejski Garden.

The pavilion display is part of the museum’s season of engineering events. During the season, the structure will grow and change in response to anonymous data on how visitors use and move under the canopy. On June 17-18 and September 22, visitors will be able to see the pavilion evolve as new components are fabricated live in the garden by a Kuka robot.

“This is a live research project,” said Menges. “One of the most exciting materials we’ve found are fiber-reinforced plastics – it’s also interesting to see that nature also uses fibrous composites.”

The design of each component of the pavilion is based on the structure of a beetle’s forewings – known as “elytra.” Each piece of the 200-square-metre structure, which is supported by funnel-shaped legs, is formed by a single length of resin-coated fiber and weighs just 45 kilograms. To make each component, a resin-soaked glass and carbon fiber is wound around a metal formwork before being hardened to form the rigid hexagonal elements.

This technique involves a robot arm winding composite materials– designed to harness the material properties of carbon fibers to give them the same strength as woven structural components. A series of these individual cell-like modules have been used to create the pavilion’s distinctive shape. On average, the 40 cells of the pavilion take an average of three hours to make.

“Based on the biological structure of beetles’ hardened forewings, we have created a novel architectural system that covers parts of the John Madejski Garden with an intricate, extremely lightweight structure made entirely from glass and carbon fibers,” says Menges. “The canopy grows from an onsite robotic fabrication unit in response to real-time sensing data, showcasing the profound impact of emerging technologies and related new alliances between the fields of design, engineering and natural science.”

Menges believes this type of composites innovation will soon be the new normal in architecture. At last week’s American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention in Philadelphia, Temple University displayed its similar B3OCC Pavilion (B3 Pavilion Optimized Composites Colonnade) – an alternative design for Philadelphia’s storied Schuylkill River Grandstands in Fairmount Park – which drew inspiration from Menges’ work.

“This is very much a showcase of how design and engineering come together,” said Menges, claiming that developments in digital carbon fiber design and robotic construction are transforming the field of engineering. “I think we’re experiencing another paradigm shift, a fourth industrial revolution.”