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Cambridge University team works in -20 degrees to build innovative ice sculpture

The impressive ice structure, designed and built by University of Cambridge students, has won first place in an international competition in China.

A team of 11 students from the Department of Engineering and the Department of Architecture took part in the annual International Ice and Snow Innovation Construction Competition in Harbin, China.

Their hyperboloid cable net ice structure, which they designed and built, is believed to be the world’s first.

The team in front of their ice structure
The team in front of their ice structure

The team, led by third year engineering student Cam Millar, won the Best Design and Construction Works Award for their structure which was built on a 10m x 10m plot in temperatures of as low as -20C.

Over a one-week period, from December 16 to December 23, they created a hyperboloid cable net ice structure, choosing this geometry to take advantage of the properties of ice – it is strong in compression and weak in tension.

Using a rope suspended from a crane, the structure – the concept of which was devised in Cambridge before the team set off for China – was sprayed with ice to create a rigid hyperboloid.

Four other universities – Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), Eindhoven University of Technology, Kent State University, and Tsinghua University – competed against the Cambridge team, which was organised by Dr John Orr, a lecturer at the Department of Engineering.

One of the other structures
One of the other structures

Dr Orr said: “I co-chair the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) Working Group 21, which is about advanced manufacturing and materials, and through that we set up a number of these design and build projects.

“In December, I took a group of students – and they were a mixture of undergraduates and PhD students – to China with a very short space of time to design and then build an ice structure.

“The brief was very open-ended and they came up with an innovative hyperboloid shape. The students had never built with ice before – using it as a construction material is something quite unusual – and they spent five days in Harbin building this structure. It was part of what was called an international competition, but it was a very friendly competition.

One of the other structures
One of the other structures

“We had quite a large number of students in Harbin and they worked together on various things and helped each other out. We had a bit of a judging session at the end and Cambridge was selected as the winner, but it was more the learning experience. It was completely outside of the curriculum, not part of the degree programme.

“They were volunteers, they paid their own airfare to get there, and I think they really enjoyed it.”

Dr Orr added: “We were quite lucky with the weather, it wasn’t too cold. It was only -15, -20 at the worst – and Harbin is known for being very, very cold.”

The contest is the result of an ongoing collaboration between IASS Working Group 21 and the HIT, which looks to expand research and teaching in innovative ice structures.

The group is chaired by Professor Arno Pronk from Eindhoven University of Technology and Dr Orr.

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