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Could the eco-friendly Binishell dome be set for a revival?

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August 4, 2014

Nicolo Bini's company has devised three new models of the Binishell

Nicolo Bini's company has devised three new models of the Binishell

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It may not come as a surprise that a papier-mâché-like building technique using an inflatable membrane and concrete dome is yet to really take hold. It was in the 1960s that architect Dr Dante Bini pioneered the Binishell as a cheaper and more eco-friendly way of construction. While this led to the building of more than a thousand domes, the practice was largely abandoned, due in part to concerns surrounding their stability. Dante's son Nicolo, also an architect, is now looking to revive the Binishell method, with a view to providing low-cost housing solutions around the world.

In the 1960s, as they are now, Binishells were championed for their relatively quick construction time and low environmental impact. A foundation slab is laid and a large bladder anchored to it, stretching right to the perimeter. Concrete is then poured on top and the bladder inflated, creating a dome structure as it sets.

The same pneumatic wedge method was employed by a team at the Vienna University of Technology to construct a concrete shell structure last month.

The company claims that the Binishells use half the resources of comparable traditional bu...

The construction method was efficient, but structural issues were reported and in some cases, led to their demise.

"Of the 1,600 Binishell buildings that were built between 1964 and 1980, two have had to be demolished for structural reasons," Nicolo Bini tells Gizmag.

One of the dismantled domes was used as a venue for exams, conferences and graduation ceremonies at Monash University in Victoria, Australia. The 11 m (36 ft) high dome was designed by Nicolo's father and constructed in 1979 using 300 tons of concrete, steel and membrane. A risk assessment conducted in 2009 revealed structural issues with the building and it was promptly demolished in around fifteen minutes.

"Reactive clay in the soil caused the footing of the Binishell to twist, subsequently causing the shell to crack," said Facilities and Services campus manager, Brian Start, following the demolition. "In more recent times the external thermal membrane had started to fail."

So while the principle largely remains the same, what makes Nicolo Bini so confident his approach can negate the issues that plagued the Binishell's early iterations?

"We have totally re-engineered every aspect of the technology to not only make them safer, and easier to build, but also greener and more affordable," he says. "Everything from the anchoring system in the foundations, to the reinforcement bar, to the concrete mix, the design and materials used for the bladder."

Nicolo Bini's company has devised three new models of the Binishell

Nicolo Bini says that these enhancements make the new domes compliant with international building codes, as well as more resistant to to the forces of nature.

"Our domes have a lower center of gravity, are monolithic and continuous point of connection to the foundations," he reports. "All this makes them far stronger in resisting loading from earthquakes and high winds. Their natural aerodynamics, derived from the construction process itself, also minimizes wind loads. The fact they are made from concrete makes them more able to resist fires and flooding."

Nicolo Bini's company has devised three new models of the Binishell: one designed for middle income housing and educational facilities, another for low-cost and disaster relief housing and also a more flexible option, designed for customized private homes and resorts. It is claimed that the Binishells use half the resources of comparable traditional buildings, cost half as much, use half the energy and can be constructed three times faster.

The company is set to to put the new Binishell design to the test and will begin construction of a full-scale home in Malibu later this year.

Source: Binishells

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. He now writes for Gizmag, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, Melbourne's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches.   All articles by Nick Lavars
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11 Comments

Instead of Malibu they should build one in Florida or wherever tornadoes and hurricanes are.

If they can stand up against those sort of winds, their sales should be assured.

Sirmike
4th August, 2014 @ 07:08 pm PDT

Tornado and hurricane resistance is definitely a good thing Sirmike. I have an issue with the cookie-cutter homogenized neighborhoods shown in the photos. Most N. Americans mat not take to this kind of design, even though it is a "green" concept. If they can be built sporadically, they would have a much higher appeal and chance of getting realized...

It looks like the Tele-Tubbies live there : )

owlbeyou
5th August, 2014 @ 04:06 am PDT

I think they are really neat. The ones with a green roof remind me of an updated Hobbit house.

BigWarpGuy
5th August, 2014 @ 08:03 am PDT

Now to rewire human beings to feel at home in bug type engineered dwellings. Why not? Social engineer types, are never satisfied with people anyway. Maybe it is all a really deep laden personal issue?

There seems to be a constant theme in some or all architectural circles, for Bug/Alien type of design. Perhaps the "invasion" has begun long ago...?

lwesson
5th August, 2014 @ 08:53 am PDT

What if these were built with a double-skinned membrane? One sealed membrane underneath that could be inflated to give the building its shape and temporary support, and an outer membrane, also sealed, and containing some kind of reinforcement for the concrete (perhaps a flexible plastic interlinked honeycomb structure- wire reinforced maybe) that could be filled with foamed concrete?

The membranes could be kept in place, to provide both waterproofing and also an ideal moisture-retaining environment in which to cure the concrete. Once the concrete had cured to a greater extent, the air could be let out of the inner temporary support structure and replaced with a foamed insulation, eg polyurethane.

Of course, the membrane material would have to be inherently fire-resistant, and the property would have to be properly ventilated, preferably with mechanical heat recovery, or by other passive means.

bergamot69
5th August, 2014 @ 11:59 am PDT

Why to commentators keep touting a shell as affordable housing? The shell, even with insulation, is one of the cheapest components of a building. Among the more expensive:

Windows

Doors

Electrical

Plumbing

Heating and a/c

Flooring

Tilework

Cabinets

Fine this shell looks nice and can be produced quickly (if you can get a cement truck and all the rebar there. But it also makes doing the interior much more expensive because of all the fitting.

taconia
5th August, 2014 @ 12:56 pm PDT

The only reason the neighborhoods in the concept drawings appear any more homogenized than existing subdivisions is that the artist chose to put many similar size homes of the same color together. A real neighborhood could have several different models, each in a wide variety of colors.

The double-skinned membrane idea sounds pretty good.

theotherwill
5th August, 2014 @ 01:07 pm PDT

Not the same construction method, but a mob called RAL homes make nice modular dome houses here in Oz, and they use a lot less concrete! See http://ralhomes.com.au/

Mr T
5th August, 2014 @ 07:49 pm PDT

I love the look but do not think that it would catch on in Europe as they would cover too much ground and not have the required housing density.

JSSFB
5th August, 2014 @ 10:59 pm PDT

Another source (been around for a long time) is http://www.monolithic.org/

Bruce H. Anderson
7th August, 2014 @ 02:11 pm PDT

Whilst I agree with some of the comments such as Wind Resistance there are negative issues such as the dome shape cuts down on inside space unless you like banging your head on the ceiling. Next negative is the land space it uses it wastes space through lack of height. And it will cost you just as much to buy a space that’s 15 x 15 for example as it would to buy as the same land space and have a two story dwelling. So far the most effective use of land space is by Multi Story apartments. These Domes do as others have stated look like a Hobbit Huts so would you really want to live in a Hobbit Hut? It sure won’t your Street Cred much good. :) :)

Carl Baron
11th August, 2014 @ 09:25 am PDT
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