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6.10.2017

BLITZ INTERVIEW WITH THORSTEN HELBIG, PARTNER AT KNIPPERS ADVANCED ENGINEERING

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ETEM: What made you decide to become an ar­chitect/engineer?

T.H.: It is fascinating to see the progress of an idea from first sketches to drawings and models which become more and more refined, then to fabrication, and finally to see the project take shape on site. One’s contribution as an architect or engineer is visible and physically present in the built project.

ETEM: Which are now the trends in façades?

T.H.: We are interested in further activating the building en­velope. The façade should support the specific performance requirements of a building. Façade systems have to be able to meet these specific requirements.

ETEM: How would you define your signature style?

T.H.: I am interested in supporting interesting and ambitious architectural projects, and I embrace exploration and innova­tion through the design process. I don’t think engineers should have any signature style, even if I see some of my colleagues aspiring to do so. We are influencing design decisions and sometimes our input significantly shapes the design.

ЕТЕМ: Which was your most challenging project and why?

T.H.: It’s always the most current one. But Shenzhen Airport T3 with architect Massimiliano Fuksas was the largest and, in terms of integrated design, the most complex project our team had done until then. We were able to approach structure and façade holistically.

The Shenzhen project also shaped our team and the way we approach complex tasks.

ETEM: Regarding the state of the planet in the face of climate changes many people are very pessimistic about the future. How do you see the urban building of the future?

T.H.: There is a global trend to create more urban density which enables further reduction of the carbon footprint of people living in the cities. Building technology and espe­cially advanced façade technology can further support this development. Today’s buildings should be considered as ho­listic systems in a larger urban network.

ETEM: The engineering progress and the dis­covery of new materials in the past decade are enormous. However, are there specific forms or shapes which are still impossible to build inthe conditions of modern technologies?

T.H.: We are exploring and experimenting with GFRP, CFRP-and textile-reinforced concrete. To us, it is interesting to un­derstand and develop approaches to how these composite materials could be used to provide better performance than traditional materials. We have built the first carbon fibre-re­inforced concrete bridge without any steel reinforcement spanning over 15 metres. The thickness of the deck sec­tion is 70-90mm. We were able to fully replace steel, which avoided any issues with corrosion. The reduced concrete quantity and reduced the cement in the bridge by about two-thirds compared to a steel-reinforced concrete bridge. The carbon footprint and embedded energy are therefore significantly lower.

We are interested to further explore the potential of such ‘new’ materials to lower the carbon footprint of the built environment.

ETEM: What is your advice for young architects?

T.H.: Stay a ‘teenager’ in our profession; be curious and question accepted limits. You can find innovation by taking risks and looking beyond conventions of safety if your ap­proach is based on a deep understanding of material per­formance and the latest technology.

ETEM: What to expect from you in the near future?

T.H.: I am looking forward to see the new Academy Muse­um of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, where we supported Renzo Piano’s team, start construction next year. And we are excited to now realise four integral mass timber bridges in Germany near Stuttgart. We have been developing the concept of mass timber bridges, which provide long-term carbon dioxide storage, for more than five years now, and these will be the first in the world to be built.

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