Barkow Leibinger

Barkow Leibinger
Schillerstraße 94, D–10625 Berlin
T +49(0)30 315712 -0 F -29

Urbainable Berlin

A constructive invention is found on one page of this contribution to the exhibition—and the question of its spatial potential on the other. Werner Sobek and Barkow Leibinger’s collaboration for urbainable sounds out the field of tension between these two poles and shows prototypical architectural uses for so-called gradient concrete.

The building industry is responsible for between 50 and 60 per cent of the global use of resources, round 35 per cent of CO2 emissions, 35 per cent of energy consumption, and 50 per cent of the production of mass waste. Against the backdrop of these insights, the architects and engineer Werner Sobek has been working for nearly two decades on developing building components made of functionally graded materials. While earlier approaches to optimization pertained to component geometry, and thus to the external shape of the component, in the case of functional grading the sectional cores of building components are being fully optimized for the first time. In building components made of functionally graded materials, the material properties on the inside of components are continuously modified (graded) in up to three axes and thus adapted to the respective requirements in an optimal way. The grading of the material property is achieved either by varying the porosity of a material or by altering the mixing ratio of various materials. The concept of grading materials has numerous models in nature. One frequently cited example is the interior composition of bones, in which graded structures take form as a result of the stress-related alignment of the bone trabeculae. Werner Sobek initiated the transfer of the research field of graded materials to uses in architecture and structural engineering and thus to a new scale level. Decisive steps with respect to saving material, reducing mass, and improving recyclability were thus taken. The use of the technology facilitates significant savings of mass and material, and hence of the grey energy bound within the building component, and also advantageous alternative approaches to commonly used composite materials.

The prototype designs that Barkow Leibinger and Werner Sobek jointly developed for the exhibition show the spatial potential by using this construction method. They address transferring this principle from a section to three-dimensional space by way of structural elements—‘from sectional to spatial thinking’. What are the architectural consequences if graded elements such as columns, beams, or ceiling panels are utilized and what does this new “lightness” bring strategically? What spatial visions result from this application’s play with scale or gravity? Does the speeding up of building processes by means of prefabrication facilitate quicker reactions to unanticipated building tasks? What forms of further construction and approaches to the addition of storeys over time become possible if the intrinsic weight of structures can be reduced considerably in line with strucutral loading?

The “new” in architecture is always best informed by its response to evolving technologies or cultural prompts. That is the question of our research here.

Project Information

Barkow Leibinger, Berlin, and Werner Sobek, Stuttgart

Pablo Sequero (Project Architect, Barkow Leibinger), Reidar Mester, Andreas Mohling, Daniel Schmeer (ILEK)


Group Exhibition


Berlin, Germany


09/2020 - 11/2020


Akademie der Künste, Berlin


Photos Installation

Stefan Korte, Berlin

Photos Gradient Concrete
Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK), University Stuttgart


Barkow Leibinger, Berlin