Concrete waffle slab systems came of age during the 20th Century, when innovation was driven by the desire for industrialized efficiency and regularity. This new system outperformed older, comparable structures through its use of a network of orthogonal ribs, which efficiently rationalized the labor involved in casting, amount of material used, and overall performance of the slab. Though these advances are still used to this day, a reinterpretation of the latent spatial possibilities of the traditional system will allow for an exploration into new possibilities and iterations of the waffle slab. By pushing back on the normative logic and strict regularity of an orthogonal column grid, our project aims to develop a variegated waffle slab structural system with corresponding spatial effects.
Traditionally, waffle slabs are produced by setting identical void forms on an orthogonal grid, then casting the negative in concrete. This system relies on consistency and replication in order to ensure proper casting. However, advancements in digital fabrication technology now allow for freedom from identical replication, which was not economically feasible due to labor costs. Robotic hot-wire cutting fabricates unique and varied void forms for casting rapidly and accurately, which enables a higher level of complexity and variability in the design of the finished built space. This technique offers the possibility of the formwork to have variable rib depth, thickness, and complex geometries.
The apex of industrial efficiency, the Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit, is the first reinforced concrete factory. Now derelict, its use of twentieth-century concrete technology provides a clear juxtaposition to the proposed irregular waffle slabs. By inserting a unique waffle slab into the remnants of industrial order, we hope to illustrate the potentials in rethinking standardized systems; combining the logic and efficiency of mass production with the potential of mass customization and simultaneously, to offer unique designs for inhabitation.