Fabricator Bill Kreysler on digital craftsmanship and collaboration

Architecture East Facades+ News Technology West
Facades+ returns to NYC April 21-22. (Aurelien Guichard / Flickr)

Facades+ returns to NYC April 21-22. (Aurelien Guichard / Flickr)

When Kreysler & Associates‘s Bill Kreysler signed on to participate in the “Emerging Craftsmanship in Digital Fabrication” panel at April’s Facades+ NYC conference, he immediately zeroed in on the second word in the title.

“I don’t think of craftsmanship the way most people do,” he said. “When I say ‘craftsmanship,’ I think that applies as much to someone sitting in front of a computer with a 3D Rhino model as it does to a guy in a wood shop in Renaissance Italy.”

But just as a room full of woodworking tools does not, in and of itself, guarantee the quality of a carpenter’s output, explained Kreysler, “just because you have a 3D computer program doesn’t mean that somehow everything you do is going to be perfect—in fact, it’s frequently not the case.”

Other fabrication specialists participating in the not-to-be missed discussion include moderator Hauke Jungjohann (Thornton Tomasetti) and co-panelists L. William Zahner (A. Zahner Company), James Carpenter (James Carpenter Design Associates), and Mic Patterson (Enclos).

Enclos, Kreysler, and Snøhetta are working together to design solutions for SFMOMA's envelope. (SFMOMA)

Enclos, Kreysler, and Snøhetta worked together to design solutions for SFMOMA’s envelope. (SFMOMA)

The gap between the potential offered by digital tools and the reality of building a high performance facade is exactly where things get interesting, said Kreysler. “Designers are becoming much more entangled in the manufacturing process,” he observed. Once upon a time, a designer’s involvement in every stage of a project’s development, from concept through construction, was par for the course. But mass production techniques and concerns over liability eventually encouraged AEC industry professionals to retreat to separate camps.

With the introduction of digital design tools, the pendulum began its swing back. “All of a sudden architects are designing buildings that nobody knows how to build,” said Kreysler. Armed with 3D design documents, computer cutting tools, and other technology, designers are once again equipped to help brainstorm solutions to construction quandaries.

As much as digital design software has enhanced the architect’s skill set, specialized fabrication knowledge and experience remains relevant. Recent technological developments “are good for architects who are skilled, but that’s where craftsmanship comes into it,” said Kreysler. “If you don’t know your tools, you can design something that turns out not to be possible to build.”

A practiced fabricator, meanwhile, spends his or her working days discerning the line between the buildable and folly. “The architect is discovering that in certain circumstances their best friend is the fabricator, the guy who says you can [manipulate a given material] this much—that’s the kind of embedded knowledge that general contractors don’t have, that architects don’t have,” said Kreysler. “It’s a hive of bees rather than a lone operator. That’s antithetical to the traditional mode in the construction industry. We’re in a state of transition; the industry is changing, which is good.”

Hear more from Kreysler and co-panelists at Facades+ NYC. Register today to secure a space at the symposium on Day 1 and your preferred lab or dialog workshop on Day 2.

Related Stories