Vacuumatic structures, or simply ‘vacuumatics’, are considered special types of pneumatic structures. Although the term ‘vacuumatics’ originates from the field of architecture, the structural principle has much broader applications and connections to other areas. In architecture, a close-related direction is the work on ‘deflateables’, whereas in physics, a closely related area is that of ‘granular jamming’. Granular jamming investigates the mechanisms that lead to the stiffening of amorphous structural particle arrangements when they densify due to an induced internal underpressure. The variety of close-related systems will be simply referred to as ‘vacuumatic structures’.

vacuumatics-principle

The structural integrity of vacuumatic structures can be explained in close relation to pneumatic structures. That is, each (closed) body at the surface of the earth is subjected to the atmospheric (air) pressure, which it supports either by a solid interior or by containing liquids or gases, whose pressure balances that of the atmosphere. In case of vacuumatics, the body is a flexible membrane envelope and its interior is typically (partially) filled with unbound granular or fibrous material. When the interior is partially evacuated from air, the envelope cannot support the pressure of the atmosphere, which causes it to be moulded around the initially unbound particles, hence compressing them and effectively bonding them together. As the internal air pressure (underpressure) decreases even further, the tightly packed aggregate core will become increasingly rigid, taking up whatever shape it is moulded into. This structural principle is clearly illustrated by vacuum packaging of coffee. Although typically the filling of vacuumatic structures consists of unbound granular or fibrous material, it is also possible to apply the same principles to a more or less continuous filling, such as flexible sheets (like spacer fabrics, insulation mats, and so on), or rigid panels (like foam, cardboard, and so on).

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