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What does weight say about something? Does it say anything about the quantity of material or its sustainability? The book Designing Lightness has some answers.
A sneak peek of the book. (Photo: NAi uitgevers)

What does weight say about something? Does it say anything about the quantity of material or its sustainability? The book Designing Lightness has some answers.

Liever Nederlands?

There is a touch of irony in printing a hefty book on heavy paper with all the necessary bells and whistles about the need for lightweight structures. This is exactly the case that Designing Lightness by Adriaan Beukers and Ed van Hinte argue. It is an all encompassing work about the need to build buildings and vehicles with less – and hopefully circular – material.

Beukers is Emeritus Professor of Composite Structures in the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. Van Hinte is an independent researcher and author. The pair have written previous books called Lightness and Flying Lightness. These books clearly show where their expertise lies.

This is also the subject of Designing Lightness. It is not a systematic treatment of the subject of lightweight design. Instead, it is a highly knowledgeable, associative book that covers a lot of ground without being disorganised and jumping from one topic to another. The chapters are logically arranged in: the urgency of the subject; the principles; areas of application; production methods; and, finally, a large number of cases.

Newton, fire ants and Gaudi

Take the chapter on the spreading strength in structures, for example. While this does include Newton’s mechanics, it also looks at fire ants that build bridges with their own bodies that, as long as they keep moving, can carry 750 times their own weight. Rem Koolhaas’ bulky CCTV building in Beijing, construction machismo, is contrasted with the movable houses of the Mapuche Indians in Chile. And a box explains why Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia will show tears. And this does not cover even half the subjects that are handled in the 10 pages.

The information dense book is liberally illustrated. It is designed in a retro 1970s style with narrow margins between the columns, framed photos and washed out colours. Only the graphics and illustrations look contemporary, but the contrast with the retro look is not at all bothersome.

Of course there is some critique. The book hardly gives a passing glance at the problems of composite materials in reuse – ‘we are making progress and ultimately everything is reusable’ (loose translation by editorial team). This does not cut ice if you have the pretension of sketching a wide vision of lightweight construction in the future. That said, this does not detract from the avalanche of information that readers will pick up. Designing Lightness is a kaleidoscope of lightweight structures. It is more a showcase of possibilities than a design manual.

  • Adriaan Beukers and Ed van Hinte, Designing Lightness, structures for saving energy, Nai010 Publishers, 2020, ISBN 978-94-6208-546-6, 360 pag., Price: € 39,95

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