Building Device
Italy-USA, 2010-2014

principals: Andrea Di Stefano, Aleksandra Jaeschke
design team: Salvo Pappalardo
renderings: Massimo D'Aiello

Marked by significant moments, from the ethereal three-arc system developed by Brunelleschi to the massive wooden compass used by Antonelli to build the dome of St. Gaudenzio, the centuries-old history of the building compass has been preserved till our days in vernacular architecture. In the last century Hassan Fathy used the compass as the pivotal point of his social and architectural project for New Gourna. In Mali, Fabrizio Carola developed a wide range of pointed domes obtained by shifting the hinge of the compass away from the centre of rotation. Not only did he expand the formal repertory, but he also refined the compass to produce series of domes of various scales. In recent years, studio AION has further contributed to the evolution of the compass. Allowing for new combinations of control parameters and rendering each movement measurable, the device has become much more flexible and above all programmable. Once associated with a digital parametric model, it became possible to evaluate the future performance of particular solutions in terms of illumination, acoustics, ventilation, and structural behaviour. With the introduction of a rotating brick guide fitted with a protractor to track the exact angle of each block, variations in porosity and complex surface patterns were achieved. Ultimately, with the insertion of a second hinge along the main arm, it was possible to subdivide the dome into a variable number of convex or concave lobes, of varied dimensions and degrees of swelling, and hence create buttresses, niches, and isolated environments. The endless formal solutions possible thanks to the new compass allow for an extraordinary virtuosity, and at the same time open the structure to external contingencies as it moves away from the original geometric primitive.