“Many of the key materials learnings were driven by using the material in situ. Bamboo doesn’t lend itself to certain structural arrangements—we know that from a theoretical perspective but the practical aspects of prototyping at a one-to-one scale made those limitations quite real.”

Bamboo is an attractive material for a number of reasons. It’s cheap and grows quickly. It’s sustainable. But bamboo also comes with unique complications—it’s particularly vulnerable to sheer.

This is one lesson John Noel and a team of structural engineers learned supporting the construction of MPavilion—a seasonal architecture commission that holds four months of workshops, talks and performances in the heart of Melbourne’s Southbank Arts Precinct.

Each year, the Naomi Milgrom Foundation commissions an outstanding architect to design the space. This Bijoy Jain was selected, an Indian architect known for his highly experimental approach. Bijoy’s Studio Mumbai takes an inclusive approach to architecture: collaborating with local artisans to draw upon traditional skills and building a number of full-scale prototypes to inform his decisions. This exposed Arup’s team of structural engineers to an entirely new method of design.

John and his team also derived a number of learnings around how prototyping may inform the design process itself. Eleven full-scale structures were assembled in Mumbai before the final MPavilion was building in Melbourne.

“You have to be quite rigorous with this approach,” says John, admitting that what his team was seeking to validate wasn’t always the same as what the architects were. “You need to set goals for what you want to learn from each prototype so that those lessons can then inform how you build the next.”

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