“Nodding to the master builders of the past, we use constraints to achieve the ‘impossible.’”
Indeed, the concept behind the Armadillo Vault would seem almost inconceivable to the untrained eye. But the Escobedo Group, a Texan architecture firm led by renowned builder David Escobedo, in collaboration with John Ochsendorf of MIT and Philippe Block of the Block Research Group, decided to embark on this journey to employ ancient design principles within a modern context.
The construction of the “most complex stone vault…built in generations” began with limestone mined from a quarry in West Texas, which became 399 cut and shaped stones (some as thin as 2 inches). Named for its resemblance to an armadillo’s shell, the tessellated structure is a “modern-day cathedral” based on voussoir geometry, forming a womb-like space that encourages meditation and reflection. Flat surfaces and sharp corners on each scale contrast with the graceful arch they form and the rough stone that hides underneath. Just months from its conception, it now stands freely — with nothing more than compression as a support — at the center of the Corderie all’Arsenale in Venice as one of many impressive architectural works in this year’s La Biennale di Venezia, “Reporting From the Front.” Despite its lack of foundation, the Armadillo Vault fills the room with a mystifying confidence, a bold assertion of its relevance. Designed to both conserve materials and stand the test of time, it marks the exact meeting point between aesthetic and utility, past and present. The 15th International Architecture Exhibition will be on display until November 27.