Visit just about any construction site today and you’ll see cranes hoisting large slabs of concrete into place. However, cranes haven’t always been around, and for thousands of years human beings moved large stones by hand.
Matter Design, a Boston-based company directed by MIT professor Brandon Clifford, recently collaborated with the multinational building materials company Cemex to explore ancient methods of moving heavy stones, while developing a brand-new way to move concrete slabs by human hands alone.
Matter Design studied how ancient architecture was built, analyzing Stonehenge and the archeological sites of Easter Island. They then developed a project called Walking Assembly, a set of interlocking concrete puzzle pieces that can be assembled into a solid wall and staircase in just 15 minutes.
Each piece is 5 feet tall and weighs between 926 and 1,543 pounds. The designers also used to different densities of concrete in the blocks. While they’re definitely too heavy for a human being to lift, they can be “walked” into place. Cleverly applying their knowledge of physics, the designers manipulated each block’s center of mass so that the blocks naturally move along their curved bottoms. Assembling the pieces requires very little human energy, since gravity and the pieces’ varying densities do most of the work.
Walking Assembly has real-world applications. Imagine if, instead of having to demolish concrete structures, they could be easily disassembled and reconstructed, with no expensive equipment or landfills required. The project could ultimately help engineers find cheaper, easier ways to build complex structures.
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