The Vault201 project emerged from the initiative of an autonomous group of design students who first came together to develop and build Vault N51 for an MIT Museum exhibition under the advisorship of Prof. John Ochsendorf (form finding by Philippe Block).
This first prototype by the group was re-worked and redesigned for the Cooper Hewitt Museum context over the period of one semester as an independent study. The parameters which dictated the form finding methods were (1) to minimize custom-cutting required by the form and masonry patterning, thus to reduce construction time, so that it would be achievable within this extremely tight time period, and (2) to develop a form which would ensure that horizontal thrust would be taken by friction–that no horizontal thrust would be exerted upon the terra cotta walls of the museum (of unknown load-bearing capacity).
The Smithsonian Museum context demanded that the design solution be fully developed with specifications, details, material research and structural load testing, to ensure that this 9’ high, 17’ span structure could be built and demolished within the museum without risk to museum goers or the museum itself.
Silman Engineers, the engineers of record, visited MIT to supervise the load-testing of a full-scale prototype, constructed in the MIT wood shop. Tests included subjecting the one-brick-thick surface to asymmetrical loading, foundation uplift, impact tests of mallets, hammers and then sledgehammers, crown loading by John Ochsendorf and Lara Davis, and a final footing displacement of 7 inches before collapse (to insure that the structure would not load laterally against the museum walls). The bricks used for the museum construction were Green Leaf bricks, composed of 100% post-consumer or post-industrial recycled products (30% of which is processed sewage waste).