MARAS 2016

5th International Conference on Mobile, Adaptable and Rapidly Assembled Structures

pcr321 - 23 September 2016
Siena, Italy


200x250 Maras16The Fifth International Conference on Mobile, Adaptable and Rapidly Assembled Structures (MARAS/2016) took place in La Certosa di Pontignano of the University of Siena, co-organised by the Free University of Brussels, represented by Professor Niels De Temmerman, and the Wessex Institute, represented by Professor Carlos Brebbia.

Structures that move in the course of normal use, or which have to be assembled or erected rapidly offer a particular challenge to the designer.  A clear mobility between the structure and the mechanism by which it moves is essential in these cases.  The speed of assembly can also be a major factor in many such structures.

Mobile and rapidly assembled structures play a major role in disaster mitigation and temporary accommodation.  They are of primary importance in many military as well as civilian applications and are widely used for rescue and maintenance services.  Also, in many cases, their reversible deployment and potential reuse can lead to a lower economic and ecological impact, providing a more sustainable solution.   There are common problems such as the efficient design of assembly joints, the resistance to damage of the membrane and metal cladding, crashworthiness and the limits of serviceability.  Some areas of the subject are already well documented, but knowledge is fragmented and there is little design guidance available in the form of text books, data sheets or codes of practice.  The interaction between morphology, kinematic behaviour and structural performance – typical of these structures – poses real challenges in terms of design and successful realisation.

The conference provided a forum for the interchange of ideas for a better understanding of the problems of rapidly assembled and modelling of those structures.

The meeting took place in La Certosa di Pontignano Conference Centre belonging to the University of Siena.  The centre offers meeting rooms and accommodation facilities, in addition to catering services.  It provides the right atmosphere for delegates to discuss problems of common interest and develop strong links.

The Centre, a former Benedictine Monastery, has three beautiful cloisters surrounded by cells and apartments.  In the middle of the Main Cloister is a 13th century stone well and also leads to the entrance to the Church with frescoes from the 1500s and an organ, on which the conference recital was given.

On the opposite side of the Main Cloister a beautiful Italian-style garden is lovingly taken care of.

The Centre is one of the few still remaining Cistercian monasteries which preserve the original layout and all the main buildings in their original architecture, in spite of the damage suffered by the buildings during the wars between Siena and Florence, when the latter burnt down all the buildings in the middle of the 16th century.  One hundred years later German and Spanish militia sacked the monastery.  The monks rebuilt the Certosa on both occasions.

It was at the end of the 18th century when the order left the Certosa for good, transferring it to another order.  This only lasted for a short time as the rule of Napoleon suppressed all convents and the buildings, with the exception of the Church, was sold to local families.

It was through the work of Professor Mario Bracci that a Company was created in 1939 to operate La Certosa which became a place of refuge for victims of political persecution.   Finally, in 1959 the complex was purchased by the University of Siena.

Located in the middle of Tuscany countryside and with many frescos and architectural motives of the Renaissance period, the Certosa offers a unique event for the exchange of views amongst researchers.  The Chianti countryside surrounding the buildings with its vines and olive trees provides the right landscape, with the inspiring view of Siena in the background.

George Green Medal

The Conference programme included a special session dedicated to the award of the George Green Medal, as well as the presentation of two keynote addresses and several special papers.

The George Green Medal was established by the University of Mississippi at Oxford, Mississippi, USA and the Wessex Institute and is now supported by Elsevier.  It is in honour of the man who single-handedly set up the basis for the modern Boundary Element Method, amongst other achievements.

George Green (1793-1841) was a self-taught genius who mysteriously delivered one of the most influential mathematics and physics works of all time.  He educated himself in mathematics and self-published the work “An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism”.  In his very first article he derived the Green’s first, second and third identities, forged the concept of Green’s function, and solved the problem of electrical potential created by a single charge placed inside a spherical metal shell.  The idea of Green’s function forever changed the landscape of science, as many physics and mathematics problems have been solved using this technique.  As Green died early, and his work was discovered only posthumously, it remains a mystery today how Green could produce such a masterpiece without the guidance of a great teacher or school and, in fact, without a formal education.  Only recently, due to the advent of powerful computers, has it been possible to take full advantage of Green’s pioneering developments.

The Medal is awarded to those scientists who have carried out original work with practical applications in the field of Boundary Elements and other Mesh Reduction Methods, continuing in this manner to further develop the pioneering ideas of George Green.  They are also persons of the highest integrity who, by sharing their knowledge, have helped to establish research groups all around the world.  The selection process is conducted by a panel of internationally recognised scientists.  The Medal is given once a year and presented during the conference.

Carlos then proceeded to introduce the recipient of the Medal in 2016 who was Professor Alex Cheng.  Alex obtained his PhD from Cornell University and is currently Dean of Engineering at the University of Mississippi.  His research interests cover boundary element methods, mesh collection method, porous mechanics, nanomechanics, graduate modelling and saltwater intrusion.

He has authored five books and edited four speciality volumes and many conference proceedings.  He has published nearly 200 articles in learned Journals.  Alex served as President of Engineering Mechanics Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Vice President of the Academic Affairs of the American Institute of Hydrology.  He is Editor-in Chief of the International Journal of Engineering Analysis with Boundary Elements and Associate Editor of the Journal of Transport in Porous Media.  

He has been the recipient of the prestigious Maurice A Biot Medal and the Walter L Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize, both of ASCE.  Alex twice received a Basic Research Award from the National Committee of Rock Mechanics, and the Eminent Scientist Award of the Wessex Institute.  He is a Fellow and member of the Board of Directors of the same Institute.

Keynote Addresses

After the Medal was presented, Professor Alex Cheng gave his keynote address “From BEM, Green’s Function, to meshless method – Personal reminiscence”.

The address was well received by the audience as it helped to explain in a clear manner the changes that have taken place in Boundary Element and other Mesh Reduction Methods since BEM was launched towards the end of the 1970’s.  

His keynote presentation was followed by another by Professor Santiago Hernandez, on “International space stations: A successful history of mobile and deployable structures”.

The session concluded after coffee with a series of lectures on optimum design of a variety of structural shapes and systems.  It ended with a short presentation, also by Alex Cheng, on the topic of “A Bio-inspired graphene composite material”.

At the end of the session, Carlos presented Alex Cheng with an antique map of the State of Mississippi.  The map dates from 1852, pre-dates the Civil War and was part of an old Atlas commissioned by the American Congress.

Invited Presentations

There were a series of invited lectures given by well-known colleagues, ie

  • “Adaptive structures.  Soft mechanical approach” by Marios Phocas, University of Cyprus.
  • Visibility of sustainability: the making of the itinerant pavilion “Summerlab”, by Faas Moonen, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands.
  • “Transformable structures for sustainable development: contemporary concepts and their realization”, by Niels de Temmerman, Free University of Brussels, Belgium.
  • “Lightweight and quickly assembled: The most eco-efficient model for architecture” by Juan Carlos Gomez de Cozar, University of Seville, Spain.

Social Occasions

There were numerous occasions for the delegates to meet informally and discuss topics of common interest.  This happened during coffee and lunch breaks, as well as during the conference dinner.

One special short guided tour of Siena was arranged at the end of an afternoon session

The participants were shown around the sights of the city of Siena by a professional guide.  They saw the spectacular Piazza del Campo, which fan-like shape fits the natural shape of the ground and is surrounded by renaissance buildings and numerous monuments.  This provides the backdrop for the Corsa del Palio, fast horse race held twice a year, which dates back to the 15th century, and is a tradition representing the different neighbourhoods and  very dear to the Sienese.

They also visited the Duomo (Cathedral) of Siena which dates back to the 12th century.  Unique mosaic marble works cover the whole floor which is displayed during September.

The guide briefly described some highlights of the history of Siena and pointed out the current use of many of the heritage buildings during the tour.

Following the excursion the delegates proceeded to have the Conference Dinner in a well-known restaurant that prepares medieval banquets following old recipes.  The restaurant itself is located in an old building dating from the 12th century.  The excellent and unusual dishes were accompanied by a good selection of regional wines, including some of the red Chianti Vino Nobile for which Tuscany is renowned.  Their qualities were described by a Sommelier who also explained the different procedures and types of grapes used in their making.

The evening was most pleasant and the delegates were able to enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed atmosphere.

Organ Recital

A special organ recital was arranged during an evening.  It took place in the ancient Church of La Certosa.  The organist was Pier Paolo Strona who has participated in other Wessex Institute meetings.

Pier Paolo trained as an aeronautical engineer at the Polytechnic of Torino at the same time as he acquired his music diploma from the Bologna Conservatory.  Through his successful scientific courses at FIAT R&D he continued to improve his skills in the piano and the organ.  As a research scientist he was the first to apply Boundary Elements Methods in aerospace, back in the 1980s.

Following his retirement from FIAT he pursued his musical vocation together with his interest in photography.  Pier Paolo has published several books on musicology and photography.

During that evening he played pieces by Zipoli (1688-1726), a Jesuit priest who composed some of his music when in the Paraguayan Mission.  Some of his music was lost when the Jesuits were forced to leave their Missions and some pieces have recently been found in the Asuncion archives.  Other composers were Galuppi (1706-1785), Cimarosa (1749-1801) and Haendel (1685-1759).

The concert was very well received by the audience who appreciated Pier Paolo the more because of his scientific achievements.

At the end of the concert, Carlos distributed a CD containing some of Pier Paolo’s music.  The CD was put together as “Music from the New Forest” and contained 22 piano pieces ranging from classical to modern music.

Committee Meeting and Close of the Conference

The meeting of the International Scientific Advisory Committee took place over dinner in La Certosa to discuss the time and location to hold the next MARAS conference.  It was agreed that the best location would be the New Forest and that there ought to be an exhibition associated to the conference.  There were also a series of nominations to the ISAC.

The conference was closed by Carlos and Niels who thanked the delegates for their participation and hoped that they would be able to attend the next conference in the series.

Associated Conferences

Disaster Management 2017
Sustainable Development and Planning 2017
Sustainable City 2017