Visions of Plasticity: TEX-FAB 2015 probes into new digital fabrication technologies

Plastic Stereotomy by Justin Diles

Plastic Stereotomy by Justin Diles.

This year’s TEX-FAB symposium in Houston continued the digital fabrication alliance’s exploration of new frontiers and technologies in the field by investigating the latest developments in 3D printing and composites.

The three-day conference ended on March 26, where top designs from TEX-FAB’s Plasticity competition were identified and displayed at the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, with a spotlight on winner Justin DilesPlasticity Stereotomy.

The project explores cohesion and stacking of stereotomic blocks traditionally used in masonry. Enlisting FEM software, Diles, assistant professor of architecture at Ohio State University, created asymmetrical “bricks” from fiberglass composites to explore different volumetric tessellations.

“The brick is the most obvious stack. He’s looking at a different strategy of stacking,” said Kory Bieg, TEX-FAB co-director and assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture. “Because of the form it distributes the load differently and you don’t need the joints and glue that a brick uses. It’s also very lightweight.”

Keynote speaker Ronald Rael, CEO of self-described “make tank” Emerging Objects, presented his latest experiments with using concrete, wood and even salt from the San Francisco bay in 3D printing. “Because they brought the price down so much they’re able to print [items] on an actual building scale,” said Bieg.

This year’s digital fabrication and design workshops for students and practicing architects aimed to present the latest research on parametric modeling within academic, professional and fabrication communities. Sophisticated new software, such as Monolith, enables architects to generate 3D models that contain instructions for fabrication, thereby eliminating the disconnect between ideas that look great on paper or on AutoCAD and those that hold water once fabricated.

(Photos Courtesy of Tex-Fab)

(Photos Courtesy of Tex-Fab)

“You can draw circles all day in CAD but you don’t know if the location in space is correct in relation to the other parts. The way this software works is it uses a node-based computer language or interface. What that means is instead of drawing a circle using AutoCAD, you create the circle based on parameters. And because you input all the data precisely into the design of these forms and shapes, the computer will give you feedback along the way and tell you if something’s wrong in the algorithm,” said Bieg, who taught a workshop called Introduction to Grasshopper.

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