TED Conversations

Mark Ballantine

CEO, Founder & CEO, Mantisgrip

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Balloon Forming: Creating permanent structures of any shape, everywhere

With netting, sheets of fabric, and simple sewing techniques anyone can create form-work for concrete, grout, sand and microbes structures.

Imagine tubes of fabric, netting sewn within as reinforcement for both the concrete and the form-work. Tubes connected to other tubes by netting to temporarily hold the desired structure. These tubes, in all shapes and sizes pumped or filled with fibrous concrete similar to inflating a balloon animal with air.

These structures are light weight, stay-in-place forms, that can be dropped (prefabricated) into any area, inflated with air to unfold the form-work for layout. Then strategically filled with concrete. A new solid structure, ready for use by the next day.

Applying higher order fibers and high tech fabrics can add engineered, calculable strengths where needed. Specialized self-consolidating concrete, ceramic, and clay blends can enhance the properties of these structures.


This idea was a spin-off of my space structures designs using robotic seamstress' and pre-impregnated fabrics for use in near earth orbit and on the lunar surface. The layered the fabrics are assembled or inflated in the shadow of the earth, then moved into the solar light for the "special sauce" in the impregnated fabrics to liquefy and commingle. Return the structure back into the shadow to cure as necessary. Chemical magic happens and a solid shell is born, ready to occupy.

The situation here on earth seems more pressing and in need of my work.
I believe that open-sourcing my idea and offering assistance in the design and construction of these structures better serves humanity in the global housing crisis. Therefore, here it is free of patent protection for all to use.

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  • Oct 8 2012: Much of what you are describing is already being done by Monolithic Domes. http://www.monolithic.com/

    I recently attended a dome building workshop course at their Texas facility, where we participated in building domes on airforms using two different methods. One of these methods produces a dome that the founder has named ecoshells, as they can be built inexpensively and without high technology requirements all over the world.
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    Oct 2 2012: This is the talk that reminded me of your proposal: http://www.ted.com/talks/janet_echelman.html
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      Oct 2 2012: Fabulous, very good information and amazing artwork.
      Thank you
  • Oct 3 2012: I can't quite visualize this, but any quick cheap building proposal seems good to me.
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      Oct 3 2012: Maybe this will help: Local fairs have "bouncy" houses made of rubber, vinyl, ropes and air pumps. These play houses can be made in different shapes, sizes and esthetic quality. When deflated, they package nicely and are very mobile.

      Upgrade the materials, incorporate an internal mesh reinforcement to hold the concrete together, and use netting, strapping and guying as a temporary positioning control measure countering the hydraulic forces and other variables until the form is filled. Turn buckles or similar adjustment tools will aid in truing up the structure (Plumb, Level and Square) prior to complete curing.
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    Oct 2 2012: There is a TED talk presented by a female artist who has done something extremely similar, though not involving concrete. She has done commissions all over the world.

    I regret I do not know her name, but if you look at tags related to art or creativity, I am confident you will find it.