Sweet Structure Engineered from Chocolate

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Recent advancements in computer modeling and design software now allow engineers to explore the feasibility of structures made out of unusual materials.
Sigrid Adriaenssens, Princeton University

A delectable design aimed at using innovative materials in architecture has led to what might be a cocoa lover's wildest dream: a pavilion made entirely out of chocolate.

Engineers at Princeton University have teamed up with the Belgian chocolate company Barry Callebaut -- the world's largest chocolate manufacturer -- to construct what would be the first functional structure made completely of chocolate.

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The project stems from the engineers' research in form-finding architecture, which seeks to optimize structural durability using innovative shapes and materials. [Inside Arcology: The City of the Future (Infographic)]

"I think most people just do what has been done before, and I think that is very restricting," said Sigrid Adriaenssens, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton involved in the project. "I think especially in structural engineering, a lot of the systems that we use have specific names and people think that they can only use the systems that already exist."

Recent advancements in computer modeling and design software now allow engineers to explore the feasibility of structures made out of more unusual materials, Adriaenssens said.

Making a Chocolate Structure

The team used such computer programs to minimize the weight of their chocolate pavilion, having established that the strength-to-weight ratio of chocolate is quite low -- about 24 times lower than standard concrete. They settled on a design consisting of more than 70 individual frames of chocolate that puzzle together into an open-air domed pavilion. The empty space within each frame helps to lighten the load. In total, the structure consists of about 900 pounds (400 kilograms) of chocolate.

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Members of the research and development branch at Barry Callebaut helped devise a careful mixture of sugar, cocoa powder, milk permeate and vegetable oil strong enough to maintain this form and stay rigid at room temperature.

The resulting product does not technically qualify as "real" chocolate: Legally, in the United States, the primary fat solid in marketable chocolate must be cocoa butter. Still, the material does smell, look and taste like chocolate, according Mark Adriaenssens, the director of R&D at Barry Callebaut Americas.

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