Architects Use Foam for Innovative Building Design

November 24, 2014

While foam products are common items throughout most households – consumers often use them as take-away food containers, hot beverage cups, and packaging material for shipping – it’s a safe bet that most people could not imagine their home being made of polystyrene foam. While this idea may seem like something from the future, a group of researchers has recently developed use for polystyrene foam as an architectural component for public building structures, and believes it could revolutionize the industry.

A team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) spent the last two years developing a new form of arch made from expanded polystyrene foam. Called the Cloud Arch™, the structure is derived from polystyrene foam. The team believes this structure could change the way large public spaces such as markets, airports, stadiums and concert halls are built.

According to NUS Department of Architecture Assistant Professor Shinya Okuda, “We are interested in creating column-free space in a way that saves materials and time, by using ultra lightweight materials. We decided to use Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam, a widely used packaging material. More than 95% of this material is air, and its composite can be fire-resistant. After two years of prototyping and structural testing, we successfully developed a technique to control the composite material and applied it for the construction of long-span structures.”

The prototype of the new architectural technology debuted during the Archifest 2014 Pavilion Competition in Singapore from May to June 2014. The prototype was named one of two winners of the competition. Theodore Chan, the 54th President of the Singapore Institute of Architect and Chairman of the Jury Panel for the Archifest 2014 Competition, dubbed the Cloud Arch™ a “breakthrough in technology [that] intrinsically lends itself to a statement of true architectural form.” The NUS team believes that the product can save significant transportation costs because it’s light weight and save time because of the ease required in set-up and dismantling. All in all, the team believes that the Cloud Arch™ technology can reduce construction costs by one-third, and construction time by half when compared to traditional construction materials such as concrete.