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Italy welcomes armadillo

image The Armadillo Vault is a complex stone vault on display in Italy.

AUSTIN – A lot of people in Texas have probably never heard of La Biennale di Venezia in Venice, Italy, but its origin dates back to 1893, when the Venetian City Council passed a resolution to set up a biennial exhibition of Italian art. A year later, the council decreed "to adopt a 'by invitation' system; to reserve a section of the Exhibition for foreign artists.”

Over the years, various things have changed with the Biennale di Venezia, but this year, an Austin builder has built what is being called an engineering marvel that is on display at the event from May 28 to Nov. 27, 2016.
      Called the Armadillo Vault, the free-standing, compression-only stone vault is the brainchild of David Escobedo, principal owner of The Escobedo Group, and Dr. Phillipe Block, who interned with The Escobedo Group while earning a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
      “Our involvement with the Armadillo dates back almost nine years, when MIT professor, Dr. John Ochsendorf (one of the leading experts on stone vaults), contacted David and asked if the stone staircase in a photo he saw in a design magazine was really in true cantilever,” says Jenée Arthur, Escobedo spokesperson.  “David affirmed that the staircase he built in Escobedo’s main office is, in fact, in true cantilever.  John then stated that he would like to send his top engineering student, Philippe, to intern with David if he could make stone do those sorts of things.”  
      Ochsendorf sent Philippe and he and David worked together for several months on ideas for free-standing compression-only vault concepts, but were not given the opportunity to fulfill their visions until July of 2015 when Philippe was invited to participate in the Biennale; at which point Philippe contacted David and they were off and running.
    “They collaborated on design, Philippe’s team modeled and engineered the vault, and the Escobedo team fabricated and built it,” Arthur says.
    The Armadillo was then fabricated, shipped overseas and assembled in a five-month period.
      David says it is called the Armadillo, not only for its shape, but because it was born and raised in Texas.  It’s built using 25 tons of Texas limestone cut into 399 pieces, each piece with a different geometrical shape.
      “This is the most complex stone vault to have been built in generations,” Ochsendorf says. “It’s really more complex than anything that’s been done anywhere in the world in recent decades.”
       Escobedo Group was founded in 1983 and currently has approximately 120 employees.
      “Today, David is also pushing the envelope to leverage conventional construction methods. In an effort to mitigate building constraints while staying committed to the quality level David is known for, we currently utilize a panelized construction process.  We fabricate the floor, wall and roof panels in our facilities, each with fully integrated electrical, plumbing and window systems; we then transport and erect the panels on-site,” Arthur says. “This is neither pre-fab nor modular as those terms are defined in the construction industry. It is a true panelized system; we use commercial construction methods and materials while maintaining the highest level of quality which our clients expect. Our panelized process results in a substantial reduction in construction duration.”  –cw


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