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Pratt Students Raise an AAC Wall

Installation investigates the future of facade design and fabrication.

Unlike some student projects, AAC Textile-Block v2.0 was shaped by both practical and speculative concerns. In back-to-back courses at Pratt, undergraduates designed and fabricated a prototype section of a screen wall system made from autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC). Co-taught by Lawrence Blough and Ezra Ardolino, the design studio and prototyping seminar encouraged students to look beyond their computer screens to real-world constraints including block size and light and air circulation. "The idea was that we wanted to make something that has an application later on," said Blough. "It was more than a run-of-the-mill digital fabrication project," added Ardolino. "It was really a comprehensive fabrication project." Each student in the design studio created a scheme for a four-story facade comprising modules cut from standard 8-by-8-by-24-inch AAC bricks donated by Aercon AAC (additional funding was supplied by the Office of the Dean of the School of Architecture). All of the assemblies were required to be self-supporting; some students designed them to be structural or to act as a weather barrier as well. With help from structural engineer Robert Otani and facade consultant Erik Verboon, both of whom teach at Pratt, the students explored their designs using Rhino and wire-cut foam models before CNC-milling prototype wall assemblies from high-density foam. During the following semester, Blough and Ardolino's seminar moved into design-development. Again with Otani's assistance, the class modified one of the designs generated in the studio for fabrication. Among the issues the seminar students addressed was the balance between uniqueness and repetition in the final assembly. "Every block could have been unique, but then there's a question of whether or not it's more efficient to incorporate repetition," said Ardolino. "The students solved that one: they figured out how they could set up the system to be somewhat repetitive." The assembly as built contains 96 blocks of 20 different types. "The earlier stuff I'd done was trying to use as much off-the-shelf material as I could," said Blough. "Here we decided to really push it, and to take on more of the ideas of mass customization."
  • Fabricator Pratt Institute School of Architecture students, Lawrence Blough, Ezra Ardolino
  • Designers Pratt Institute School of Architecture students, Lawrence Blough, Ezra Ardolino
  • Location Brooklyn
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • Material Aercon Florida autoclaved aerated concrete, steel plates, steel rods, polyurethane construction adhesive, plywood
  • Process Rhino, Grasshopper, HAL, modeling, CNC milling, mortaring, shimming
Students milled the AAC modules from 8-by-8-by-12-inch half-bricks using a reconditioned auto-industry robot at Timbur, Ardolino's computer-aided design and fabrication studio. After considering their options, the team settled on an "in the round" strategy, in which the tool makes parallel passes around the Z axis of each block. The blocks were held to the table using custom-milled high-density urethane foam jigs. By working from the largest module to the smallest module, the students required only two jigs. "As the block got smaller, more and more of the jig got eaten away during milling—like a palimpsest," observed Ardolino. While Ardolino managed the off-site fabrication, Blough oversaw assembly in the School of Architecture lobby. Students volunteered their time between classes to lay courses of the milled blocks, using a high performance polyurethane construction adhesive in place of mortar. Slotted steel plates located two courses from the top and bottom of the 10-foot 8-inch by 4-foot prototype accept 1/4-inch rods, which also pass through channels milled into the faces of pairs of blocks. Thinner, staple-like steel rods provide horizontal reinforcement every fourth course. When the installation was up, the assembly team, realizing the floor was uneven, pushed it into plumb before shimming it and re-adjusting the tension on the rods. Though the installation is presently unsealed, Blough and Ardolino are investigating an epoxy-like coating that would protect the blocks from contact damage without obscuring the tool paths. "We like the tool paths—they make it look like dressed stone," said Blough. Though the multi-semester project was designed as a hands-on learning experience for the undergraduates, the professionals involved benefited as well. "I like the idea of this cross-pollination between what goes on in my office and in Ezra's office, and that we can then bring it back to the studio and really push it," said Blough. "It was really liberating for me to take it to this whole other level with Ezra and the students, because you have all these great minds working on it."
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PART Studio Plays Peek-a-boo with Plywood

Louisville installation elicits fabric-like behavior from wood.

PART Studio designed and built their plywood Peek-a-boo Curtain in just four days, after a last-minute invitation from Louisville arts and business networking organization I.D.E.A.S. 40203. "We went to a meeting, talked about it, then drove to the plywood store," recalled principal Nathan Smith. Luckily, the architects were not starting from scratch. Rather, Smith and partner Mark Foxworth seized the opportunity to build a full-scale mock-up of an idea they had been tossing around for some time: a curtain that, though built of wood, would behave like fabric. Staged at FirstBuild, a design and fabrication studio run through a partnership between GE Appliances and Local Motors, the exhibition also gave the designers a chance to explore the space between art and commerce. "With our piece we were looking not only to span the specific interests of the groups involved, but also to consider the relationships between product design, art, and architectural design," said Smith. The imminent deadline meant that Smith and Foxworth had to use the tools at hand, namely their studio’s own small-format laser cutter. The choice placed certain limits on the design. "Laser-cutting is great, but it gives you a lot of constraints because there aren’t that many materials you can use," said Smith. The architects opted for 1/8-inch-thick plywood. The size of the cutting bed also informed the scale of the individual tiles. The upside was that "because the tiles were so small, we could get a certain amount of fabric behavior," explained Smith. PART Studio developed the tiles' perforation pattern in Grasshopper, using a twisting-triangle shape to simulate a human body passing through the curtain, and exploring multiple iterations until they found one they liked. The designers had earlier tested the curtain concept for an interior design project, a dressing room. "In that, the open and closed relationships were pretty specific to the pattern," said Smith. "In the context of an art exhibit, it was more important to take the openness and opacity to extremes because it was a compositional thing."
  • Fabricator PART Studio
  • Designers PART Studio
  • Location Louisville, KY
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • Material plywood, zip ties
  • Process Grasshopper, laser cutting, tying, hanging
With respect to assembly, said Smith, Peek-a-boo Curtain "is frankly not a very difficult project from a technical standpoint." The architects wanted to laser-cut or otherwise fabricate square metal rings to attach the tiles to one another. But with just a few days to build, and with zero budget, they opted for an easier solution: yellow zip ties. The tiles are arranged in vertical columns, then staggered horizontally. Each component has a total of six holes for vertical and lateral connections. "The original hole pattern didn't work out; the tie holes were a little close," said Smith. As for staggering the tiles, "that was a big discussion that actually ended up making it a little less fluid," he said. "We liked the pattern, but it would’ve been a little more graceful if we'd done it straight. We thought it would have a more fabric-like stitched-together visual, and it does, but it behaves more like fabric as an actual grid." Peek-a-Boo Curtain, which Smith and Foxworth hope to refine for specific interiors projects, is part of the firm's broader mission to change Louisville’s design culture, one small project at a time. "We prefer to do installations and micro design-builds to competitions," said Smith. "We're in a very small market. For our practice, it doesn't really help us to show our clients a museum in Helsinki." But what they can do is participate in the area's nascent art scene, from organizing a competition for the annual Festival of Riverboats to putting on design-based shows at the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft. "We've been able to have a consistent practice in a way that wouldn’t have been possible two years ago," said Smith. "We're trying to do work, to do things like Peek-a-boo Curtain and whatever comes through the door, but at the same time we’re trying to improve the conditions, culturally, for where we are working."
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Red Deer Lights Up Burning Man

Prismatic pyramid evokes desert mirage by day, Aurora Borealis by night.

Given that their pyramidal acrylic installation at this summer's Burning Man was inspired in part by Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album cover, it seems safe to say that the architects at Red Deer "get" the festival's vibe. "We try to get very intimate with our sites, so it was interesting to approach one that we hadn't been able to visit," said founding director Ciarán O'Brien. "Some of the primal forces we could see at play there were the heat of the desert and the way people interact with structures. Specifically, for us it was about light in all its forms." The UK firm worked closely with the structural engineers at Structure Mode to design a transparent six-meter-tall structure comprising interlocking equilateral triangles, while New York Institute of Technology professor Charles Matz contributed an integrated light display based on the Aurora Borealis. "All kinds of imagery came to mind that held to the desert landscape," said O'Brien. "By day, the concept evoked a mirage; by night, a kaleidoscope. One is ephemeral, a non-place; the other is specific, a beacon." Called Luz 2.0, the Burning Man installation is only the latest iteration of an ongoing exploration of the relationship between matter and light. The project began as a response to a commission for a band pavilion. "Red Deer's original idea was a scaffolding framework that would be clad in some reflective material," recalled Structure Mode's Geoff Morrow. "We suggested going one step beyond that and building an acrylic pyramid, to make it much more special." The clients canceled, but the designers applied for grants, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, and debuted Luz at Secret Garden Party 2013 in Abbots Ripton, England. The first Luz featured a touch-sensitive floor screen-printed with a colorful pattern that appeared to change shape under different lighting conditions. For Burning Man, Red Deer omitted the floor "so that you interacted with the playa landscape," said O'Brien. Red Deer and Structure Mode jointly developed Luz 2.0's reciprocal modular system. "It was really interesting investigating how all these different connections could work, what different shapes could work within a three-sided pyramid," said Red Deer's Lucas Che Tizard. "The system we use is composed of equilateral triangles, but it actually gives us more than just pyramids—you see hexagons as well." The architects worked first with hand sketches, then transferred their ideas to SketchUp before moving to 3ds Max, Rhino, and Vectorworks to finalize the structure and start to explore how the modules would connect to one another. Structure Mode analyzed the design's structural stability in Oasys' GSA Suite.
  • Fabricator Red Deer, Structure Mode
  • Designers Red Deer (architects), Structure Mode (structural engineering), Charles Matz (lighting)
  • Location Black Rock City, NV
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • Material acrylic, bolts, barrel nuts, washers, custom lighting system, Mogees sensors
  • Process sketching, SketchUp, 3ds Max, Rhino, Vectorworks, Oasys GSA, CNC milling, shipping, drilling, wiring
Red Deer flattened the final design and emailed the files to the CNC cutters. At that point the three-dimensional installation "became a flat pack kit," said O'Brien. "Part of the challenge was that each of these pieces should be human-sized, so that they could be built by a small team using basic tools in desert conditions." To simplify installation, Structure Mode developed a streamlined bolt-and-nut assembly based on furniture-making connections. "In a way it's kind of low-tech, but it looks high-tech," said O'Brien. The UK contingent shipped Luz 2.0 to the Nevada desert in three crates. The components took longer than expected to arrive: though they had hoped to begin installation on Monday, the architects were forced to wait until Thursday. Nonetheless, the on-site crew managed to assemble the pyramid in just two days using hand drills. Matz's team, meanwhile, arrived on site with the electronics, including custom hardware based on 3D models sent to them by Red Deer. The installation of the lighting system "came together seamlessly," said O'Brien. "We were somewhat concerned about voltage, but it worked out." The only disappointment involved the Mogees sensors, designed to trigger changes in the light show as visitors climbed on and around the pyramid. They worked well in a small-scale test, but "unfortunately the settings didn't translate to the seven-meter structure," said O'Brien. "I can't say it fully fulfilled that brief." Red Deer and their collaborators will soon have another shot at realizing the vision behind Luz 2.0. As befits the installation's emphasis on the immaterial—not to mention the ethos of Burning Man itself—the architects plan to re-erect the structure elsewhere. "We've had quite a few offers from various benefactors, but we haven't figured out what would be best," said O'Brien. "Right now it's in storage in Reno, awaiting its next move."
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Martha Schwartz’ Hillside Mountain Range

Illuminated steel pavilions mimic Chinese peaks.

The hillside site of Fengming Mountain Park, in Chongqing, China, presented Martha Schwartz Partners with both a practical challenge and a source of inspiration. Asked by Chinese developer Vanke to design a park adjacent to the sales office for a new housing development, the landscape architecture and urban planning firm quickly gravitated toward the metaphor of a mountain journey. "That's why in the plans you see a zig zag pattern" to the path leading down to the sales center from the car park, said associate Ignacio López Busón. Steel pavilions scattered along the walkway pick up on the theme, taking the form of abstracted mountain peaks. "That's something the client really liked," said López Busón. "Once the idea was clear, it was all about developing the shape of them, and trying to make them look special." To refine the image of the pavilions, explained López Busón, "we first looked at the faceted nature of Chinese mountains. They aren't smooth at all." Fengming Mountain Park's metal structures feature an aggressive geometry that twists and turns above chunky legs. The pavilions' perforations and red and orange color scheme were inspired by a second cultural touchstone. "Martha was interested in the idea of the Chinese lantern," said López Busón. "The lanterns are red; then you put a light inside, and they become a nice gradient of red and yellow." The Fengming Mountain Park team started work on the pavilions with hand sketches, then brought the concept design into Rhino. There they played with the shape, developing a system of triangular modules that again represented mountain peaks. Then they transferred the model to Grasshopper, where they focused on the perforations and color. "We made paper models, but not too many because we were quite happy with the result in Rhino," said López Busón, who acknowledged that a compressed schedule was also a factor.
  • Fabricator Third Chongqing Construction Engineering
  • Designers Martha Schwartz Partners
  • Location Chongqing, China
  • Date of Completion 2013
  • Material steel, spray paint
  • Process sketching, Rhino, Grasshopper, modeling, laser cutting, welding, spray painting
The most difficult aspect of fabrication, said López Busón, was adjusting the design of the pavilions to fit the size of the laser beds to which Third Chongqing Construction Engineering had access. "We made a Grasshopper definition to guarantee that every triangle fit the laser bed. However, the final outcome showed several scars, which tells us that the developer likely reused some leftovers to save on materials." Both the panels and the supporting profile tubes were fabricated out of steel, to reduce costs. Martha Schwartz Partners originally proposed painting individual panels after cutting, then assembling the finished panels on site. "The fabricators didn't agree," said López Busón. "They built the pavilions first, then spray painted them." The result, he said, was favorable. "What you see is a smooth gradient from the bottom to the top." The perforations, too, help negotiate the transition from ground to sky. "We came up with a pattern that changes from bottom to top, which sort of dissolves the pavilion," said López Busón. "It's quite nice at night. There's also this nice merging between decoration and structure; you can't tell what is what." The experience of designing a 16,000 square meter park on an abbreviated timeline "was intense, but fun," said López Busón. "At the very beginning, we were following this traditional way of practicing architecture: Whatever we designed in three dimensions, we unrolled and put into AutoCAD." But as the weeks flew by, the designers streamlined the process, sending 3D models directly to the client—a process, he explained, that allowed the designers to catch and immediately correct a problem with the perforation pattern. "Without the digital tools, it would have been impossible."
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Herringbone Whisky Bar by Taylor and Miller

Owner-built interior explores the transition from two dimensions to three.

For his latest venture, The Montrose in Park Slope, Brooklyn, whisky bar proprietor and former contractor Steve Owen (with partners Michael Ferrie and Alex Wade) wanted a rough, industrial look evocative of an Old World distillery. "He was coming at it sort of from an antique perspective, as a pastiche," said B. Alex Miller, partner at Taylor and Miller Architecture and Design. "We were thinking of it in a different way." Taylor and Miller, who had worked with Owen on several projects when he was a practicing contractor, noticed the prevalence of wood herringbone patterning on the walls and floors of the spaces Owen was inspired by. "We'd done some other herringbone studies," said Miller. "We said, 'This is something that's often done in a high-end scenario. Let's pare it down to the barest of essentials, just do it out of 2-by-4 pine, do it in grain on the walls.'" The design of The Montrose became, said Miller, "a very basic exercise in transitioning from a two-dimensional to a three-dimension pattern," in which individual boards were pulled away from the wall in the z direction. Working in Rhino, the architects explored multiple iterations of the form, including the different textures created when a unit was defined as a single stick versus a two-board L. The ceiling, along which boards are arrayed lengthwise, also received a three-dimensional treatment. "There were some really interesting relationships in the ceiling," observed Miller, "almost like a musical score."
  • Fabricator Steve Owen
  • Designers Taylor and Miller Architecture and Design
  • Location Brooklyn
  • Date of Completion 2013
  • Material pine boards, nails, screws
  • Process Rhino, hanging, hammering, drilling
Though the herringbone patterning was developed almost entirely on the computer, Taylor and Miller wanted to avoid the sense of an overly precise, machine-made space—hence the use of standard lumber. "We're often looking at very basic materials, at how to do it in a repetitive way so that the human intervention is felt," said Miller. "We wanted to make it a little more than a highly fabricated, laser-cut, pristine sort of thing." Owen built The Montrose's interior himself. "Because he was a friend, and a contractor, we could remove a lot of the documentation that would normally be required," said Miller. In fact, Owen soon abandoned the digital models Taylor and Miller passed along. "Once he figured out the system, we were able to give him just data points, just coordinates," said Miller. "It was a feedback loop: he was interpreting what we gave him. He said, 'Okay, just give me the z data off the wall.' We joked that he was seeing the Matrix a little bit." The installation itself was "dumb, in a good way," said Miller, requiring nothing more than nails and the occasional screw. "When we're doing something like this that we know is hyper-labor-intensive, it can't be complicated from an install point of view. There's nothing overly polished; it's just dirty." That messiness is exactly what Miller most appreciates about the finished product. "When we go in there now, some of the curves are a little bit rough," he said. "You can see these—they're mistakes, frankly, but I love the space because of it. This is not a highly precious thing, this is not a highly sculptured piece. It's someone interpreting our concept."
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Urbana’s Shape-Shifting Parking Garage Facade

Folded aluminum panels deliver the illusion of movement to passersby.

During their recent expansion, Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis approached Urbana Studio with an unusual request. The hospital wanted the Los Angeles-based art and architecture firm to design an interactive facade for a recently completed parking structure. "With Indianapolis' really extreme weather patterns, we gave a lot of thought to: how can we make something that's interactive but won't be broken in a year?" said Urbana principal Rob Ley. "Unfortunately, the history of kinetic facades teaches us that that they can become a maintenance nightmare." Urbana's solution was to turn the relationship between movement and the object on its head. Though the aluminum facade, titled May September, is itself static, it appears to morph and change color as the viewer walks or drives by. May September—a semi-transparent rectangular wall comprising 7,000 angled aluminum panels—was inspired in part by Ley's interest in camouflage, and specifically active camouflage. "I wanted to take that on more in a passive way than an active way," he said. The designers set out to create something like a lenticular image, which seems to shift or jump into three dimensions as the angle of view changes. "Could we make something where the pieces themselves don't move, but we recognize that the people in front of it will be moving?" asked Ley. Urbana Studio dedicated six months to the design before sending it to fabrication. The first half of the work was digital, primarily using Rhino and Grasshopper as well as software the designers wrote themselves in Processing. The team spent a lot of time on color. "The idea was to find two colors that would have a good contrast, and that maybe don't exist at all in Indianapolis," said Ley. The final scheme, which pairs deep blue with golden yellow, drew on the work of local landscape artist T.C. Steele. After building renderings and animations on the computer, the firm constructed mockups to check their assumptions. The unique site conditions influenced both the choice of material—aluminum—and the placement of the panels. "It had to be very lightweight, because it was going on a structure that wasn't engineered to have anything like this on it," said Ley. The designers also had to contend with the natural movement of the garage, and wind gusts up to 90 miles per hour. "It doesn't seem that interesting, but when the entire project is basically making sails, the wind issue is counterintuitive to what you're doing," said Ley.
  • Fabricator Indianapolis Fabrications
  • Designers Urbana Studio
  • Location Indianapolis
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • Material aluminum flaps from Ryerson, custom aluminum extrusions from Northern States Metals, stainless steel fasteners
  • Process Rhino, Grasshopper, scripting, cutting, folding, bolting, sliding, lifting, hanging
Indianapolis Fabrications fabricated and installed the facade. "We'd worked to pare the design down to be very modular, so there would be no waste materials," said Ley. "We also worked out a system that would look like there's an infinite number of variations of angles, but in the end there are only three. We're faking a lot of variability with a system that doesn't have that many possibilities." Urbana Studio also designed a custom aluminum extrusion so that the bolts—three per panel, or 21,000 in total—could slide into the facade's vertical structural elements without the use of a drill. "It allowed us to have this very erratic placement of elements without having thousands of holes to verify," explained Ley. Indianapolis Fabrications assembled the facade off site in 10 by 26 foot sections. The size of the pieces was dictated by factors including the width of the street, the overhang on the existing structure, and the wind resistance each component would face as it was lifted into place. Ley was pleasantly surprised by the interest May September generated among other would-be garage designers. "There are a lot of parking garages out there," he said. "Usually they're very much an appliance. As an archetype, the parking structure is not very interesting, but everyone's anticipating that they're not going away." As for his own firm, Ley would welcome another commission for a parking structure—particularly one that allowed him to work from the ground up. "I enjoyed dealing with a window treatment," he said. "But it would be nice to be involved earlier on, to be able to pursue it in a more holistic way."
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Page Floats a Cedar Sunshade in Albuquerque

Minimalist catenary canopy lends warmth and lightness to office courtyard.

When Page design principal Larry Speck suggested a catenary sunshade for the courtyard of the new GSA building in Albuquerque, his colleagues set about identifying precedents. "There were some really great devices that we looked at, but a lot were done in the 1960s out of heavy, monumental materials," said principal Talmadge Smith. "We wondered if there was a way to do it in a lighter, more delicate way that would also introduce some warmth to the space." The architects elected to build the structure out of western red cedar, which performs particularly well in arid climates. Comprising 4-, 8-, and 12-foot boards suspended on steel cables, the sunshade appears as a wave of blonde wood floating in mid-air, casting slatted shadows on the glass walls of the courtyard. The courtyard is an important amenity in the two-story, 80,000-square-foot building, currently occupied by a combination of federal employees, including immigration and customs enforcement staff, and state and local law enforcement. "We said, 'This is a pretty big floor plate, it needs a great courtyard,'" said Smith. "For one thing, in this climate that's just what you build. You get free shading and can create a cooler microclimate." The courtyard also helps bring light into the communal spaces that surround it, which include training areas, circulation, and conference rooms. "It remains a democratic insertion into the floor plan," observed Smith. Finally, the courtyard allowed the architects to compensate for a lack of glazing on the exterior walls, the result of security requirements. Working in Revit and 3ds Max, Page experimented with various patterns for the sunshade. They first tried a regular arrangement of identical slats. "The result wasn't very pleasing," said Smith. "It made a drooping, uninviting shape. It also closed the courtyard, as if you had pulled a big venetian blind across it." They decided to break up the pattern and use three different modules of wood, placing them only where daylighting analysis dictated. They also worked with the cables themselves to identify the appropriate amount of slack. "We tested what it would be if you pulled the cables tight," said Smith. "It negated the effect of the catenary, and led to a courtyard with a little bit of a ceiling, a rigidity that we didn't want." The final design incorporates 18 inches worth of slack per cable.
  • Fabricator Enterprise Builders
  • Designers Page
  • Location Albuquerque
  • Date of Completion 2012
  • Material 2x6 western red cedar boards from US Lumber Brokers, steel cables, off-the-shelf hardware
  • Process Revit, 3ds Max, daylighting analysis, bolting, grouting, hanging
Enterprise Builders used off-the-shelf hardware to assemble and install the sunshade. The cedar boards are attached to the cables via steel clips bolted to one face of each board. Deciding against integrating hardware directly into the curtain walls, Page designed opaque concrete headers for the two short sides of the courtyard, then grouted the anchors into the masonry units. A turnbuckle attached to a pivot near each anchor allowed the builders to make adjustments to the length of the cables once they had been hung. A second, perpendicular, system of cables prevents the shading structure from swaying. "The hardest part was getting it level," said Smith. "There was a little art to that because some strands are more heavily loaded than the others." Fabricated out of standard lumber and mass-produced hardware, the sunshade might have felt bulky or crude. Instead, it provides relief from the New Mexico sun while seeming almost to dissolve into the sky. "When you're standing there, you only ever see half of the shading members at a time," said Smith. "You see a lot of sky, but you feel a lot of shade. It performs, but it feels light."
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Interactive Thermoplastic Pavilion by B+U

A thin shell pavilion with an audio feedback program invites engagement.

Apertures, the amorphous pavilion designed and fabricated by Baumgartner+Uriu (B+U) with students from SCI-Arc, challenges two of architecture’s defining dualities: the distinction between wall and window, and the division between exterior and interior. “Conceptually, we were looking at objects that are multi-directional and have apertures as their main theme,” said partner Herwig Baumgartner. “That was one aspect of it; the other was the barriers between inside and outside and how we can dissolve these. We’re interested in architecture that’s responsive through either movement or sound.” As visitors pass through or otherwise engage with the 16-foot-tall, 1/8-inch-thick structure’s many rounded openings, attached heat sensors trigger sounds based on human bio-rhythms, creating a feedback loop that encourages active exploration of the space. In addition to the themes of apertures and inside versus outside, B+U were interested in investigating the technology of thin shell structures. “How can you build something that’s over ten feet tall and very thin, and what’s the minimal material you can get away with?” asked Baumgartner. The architects used digital modeling software including Maya to determine the pavilion’s form, then constructed a series of mockups in different materials. “We’d be working with consultants, or we’d ask fabricators: how would they build this?” recalled partner Scott Uriu. “We were thrown quite a few interesting ideas. A lot of them wouldn’t quite pan out, but we were always working back and forth between digital and analog design.” The designers originally tried building Apertures out of acoustic foam. “It was interesting for us because it creates an absorptive environment, but it was very weak,” said Baumgartner. They considered supporting it with an egg-crate structure. “But in the end we said, ‘Let’s get rid of the structure and make the surface the structure,’” he explained. They landed on heat-formed plastic, a thin material that becomes self-supporting when molded into certain shapes. “We did a mockup and we really liked it,” said Baumgartner. “It’s glossy and shiny on the outside, but the inside was matte. It has a very different interior and exterior.” Matt Melnyck, a principal at Nous Engineering, worked closely with B+U to insure the pavilion’s stability.
  • Fabricator B+U with SCI-Arc students
  • Designers B+U
  • Location Los Angeles
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • Material thermoplastic polymer resin, aluminum rivets
  • Process Maya, modeling, CNC milling, heat forming, bolting, lifting
With 35 students from SCI-Arc, B+U CNC-milled polyurethane foam molds for the pavilion’s 233 panels. At Warner Bros. Staff Shop, they poured the hot plastic resin over the molds, then cut out and painted the components. Reveals and guides milled into the molds indicate attachment points; the panels are joined with aluminum rivets. On site at SCI-Arc, the design team assembled the panels into nine sections of 30-40 panels each before lifting them into place. Designed for easy assembly and disassembly, the structure “breaks down into 233 panels and nests well,” said Uriu. Media artist Hannes Köcher developed Apertures’ audio program based on B+U’s concept. “If you stick your head through the apertures or you walk through them, the majority of them have sensors. Different sensors trigger different sounds—we basically made a thermal map of the object,” said Baumgartner. “When you’re in the space and especially when there’s multiple people in the space, it heats up. The sound starts building up over time, almost like a polyphony thing.” Because the audio is delivered through transducer speakers, visitors feel as well as hear the rhythms. During its spring showing at SCI-Arc, the result was exactly as B+U had hoped, Baumgartner reflected. “People started interacting with it, entering into a sort of feedback with the sounds.”
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IIT Students Explore the Potential of Carbon Fiber

Composite materials are on display in the undergraduate-built FIBERwave PAVILION.

Carbon fiber’s unique properties would seem to make it an ideal building product. Untreated, carbon fiber cloth is flexible and easy to cut. After an epoxy cure, it is as hard as steel. But while the automobile and aerospace industries have made widespread use of the material, it has gone virtually untouched by the architectural profession. Alphonso Peluso and his undergraduate students at the IIT College of Architecture set out to change that with their FIBERwave PAVILION, a parametric, sea life-inspired installation built entirely of carbon fiber. "We want to make the studio an expert resource for people trying to get into carbon fiber in terms of architecture," said Peluso, whose students designed, funded, and built the pavilion this spring. "There’s a studio in Germany that’s in their second year of working with carbon fiber, but I don’t think anyone in the United States is working with it." Peluso’s studio began with an internal competition. Because the spring semester course followed a class dedicated to the exploration of various composite materials, many of the students were already familiar with the pros and cons of carbon fiber. "Toward the end of the first semester we started working with carbon fiber, and it wasn’t the greatest result," said Peluso. "But we knew we had to keep working with it. That played a big part in the selection of the design for the second semester." The students judged the submissions on constructability as well as aesthetics, he explained. "It was interesting to see the students as the pavilions were being presented, see their minds turning on: ‘Okay, this one is feasible—this is one we can actually build.’ Sometimes the design was a little better, but the overall project seemed less possible within the time frame." The winning design is based on a bivalve shell structure. The student who came up with the idea used parametric design software to explore tessellations of the single shell form. "What I was pushing them to do in the first semester was large surfaces that weren’t repetitive," said Peluso. "In the second semester, it was like they intuitively knew there had to be repetition of the unit." As a group, the class further developed the design in Rhino and Grasshopper. But while the students used parametric software to generate the shell pattern, in general FIBERwave PAVILION was "less about designing in the computer," said Peluso. "Most of it was fabrication based." The studio was hands-on from the beginning, when students were asked to submit a small-scale carbon fiber with their competition entries. They went back to Rhino to make the molds. "We had to make six molds," explained Peluso. "Even though it was one identical shell unit we had to produce 86 of these shells. When you make a composite unit, if you have one mold you can only make one shell per day." In the end, the students fabricated a total of 90 shells (including several extra to make up for any defects) over the course of about four weeks.
  • Fabricator IIT School of Architecture CARBON_Lab
  • Designers IIT School of Architecture CARBON_Lab
  • Location Chicago
  • Date of Completion Spring 2014
  • Material carbon fiber, epoxy from West System Epoxy
  • Process Rhino, Grasshopper, 3D printing, cutting, molding, curing, painting, bolting
"The actual assembly was pretty quick, the pavilion itself went together in less than a day," said Peluso. Laterally, bolts through CNC-drilled holes connect the shells at two points on either side. The overlapping rows of shells are secured vertically through bolted pin connections. The installation remained on the IIT campus for one month, after which the students disassembled it in just 25 minutes. The Chicago Composite Initiative, which provided crucial technical guidance during the project, has since erected FIBERwave PAVILION in one of its classrooms. The fundraising component of the project was as important as its design and fabrication elements. Peluso initially hoped that the carbon fiber industry would donate materials, but "we didn’t have as much luck as we anticipated because we hadn’t done anything before that would warrant their interest," he said. "That’s one of the goals of the pavilion itself, to create an awareness in architecture that this could be a great material to use." Peluso’s course did have help from West System Epoxy, which provided the curing resin at a discount. To fill the funding gap, the students ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising $6,937 from a $6,500 goal. They made incentives for the donors, including 3D-printed necklaces and earrings. "I don’t think we realized how much work was going to go into that," said Peluso. To raise additional funds, the class held bake sales on campus. For Peluso, the process of designing and building FIBERwave PAVILION proved as valuable as the finished product. "The way the students collaborated made the project a success," he said. "Sometimes in group projects you get a few drifters, and some really strong ones. But all twelve students really stepped up. This wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t all come together as a group."
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Constructivist Playground by Warren Techentin Architecture

An interactive installation reconsiders the definitions of enclosure and openness.

Warren Techentin Architecture’s digitally-designed La Cage Aux Folles, on display at Materials & Applications in Los Angeles through August, was inspired by a decidedly analog precedent: the yurt. “Yurts are circular,” explained Techentin, who studied the building type as part of his thesis work at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. “That began the idea of using small-diameter rods and taking software and configuring sweeps with some special scripts that we found online.” But while the yurt’s primary function is shelter, Techentin’s open-air installation, built of 6,409 linear feet of steel pipe, is a literal and intellectual playground, its form an investigation of the dualities of inside and out, enclosure and openness. Once the architects became familiar with the scripts, which allowed them to manipulate multiple pipes simultaneously, they found it easy to generate designs. The hard part was settling on a final shape. Then an off-hand observation narrowed their focus. “Somebody made a comment about, it looks like a crazy cage,” said Techentin. “We realized, ‘Oh, there’s this cage component. What if we imagine spaces inside spaces?’ That’s where these interiorized conditions came through, kind of creating layers of inside and outside.” Technical constraints further influenced the form. “We had to jump out of the digital world and decide how this was made in reality,” said Techentin. To minimize materials costs, the architects decided to work with schedule 40 steel tube, which is available in 24-foot lengths. Returning to Rhino, they broke apart their model and rescripted it accordingly. They modified their model again after learning what radiuses their metalworking contractor could accommodate. “It was kind of a balancing act between hitting these radiuses, the 24-foot lengths, and repetition—but how do you get difference and variety,” said Techentin.
  • Fabricator Ramirez Ironworks, Paramount Roll and Forming
  • Designers Warren Techentin Architecture
  • Location Los Angeles
  • Date of Completion April 2014
  • Material Schedule 40 steel tube
  • Process Rhino, scripting, bending, cutting, sleeving, welding, bolting, painting
Warren Techentin Architecture originally sought a digital fabricator for the project. But the quotes they received were too high, and they could not locate a manufacturer able to work with pipes longer than six feet. They contacted Paramount Roll and Forming, who rolled and bent the tubes by hand for one-tenth of what digital fabrication would have cost. “It wasn’t what we wanted, but in the end we wanted to see the project through,” said Techentin. Paramount sent the shaped steel to Ramirez Ironworks, where volunteers interested in metalworking helped assemble the structure. The design and fabrication team then disassembled it, painted the components, and transported them for reassembly on the site, a small courtyard in the Silver Lake neighborhood. La Cage Aux Folles invites active exploration. “My work draws great influence [from] architecture as something that you interface with, interact with—that envelops you, becomes part of an environment you participate with,” said Techentin, who overheard someone at the opening call his structure “a constructivist playground.” “We fully intended people walking around in there, lying down,” he said. “The surprise factor were the number of people who feel inspired to climb to the second and, more ambitiously, the third cages. We’re not encouraging it, but people do it.”
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Cambridge Architectural Weaves a Flexible Steel Curtain

Strength and softness meet in a metal mesh room divider.

Interior dividers can be functional to a fault. If a partition is all you need, then even drywall would do the trick. A custom-built metal curtain in the University of Baltimore’s new law building, however, brings an architectural sensibility to the problem of dividing one space into two. The curtain bisects the lobby with stainless steel, woven into mesh for a unique and uncharacteristically soft texture. Maryland-based Cambridge Architectural engineered and installed the custom mesh curtain for the John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore. The building, designed by Behnisch Architekten and Ayers Saint Gross, won best facade in AN's first annual Best of Design Awards. The divider is a continuous 33-foot curtain of architectural stainless steel in the building’s seventh-floor lobby. (A second divider, also designed by Cambridge Architectural, is located near the snack bar on the ground floor.) Made of small triangular volumes between a mesh weave, the curtain’s opacity varies based on the angle of the viewer. The Angelos Law Center curtain is longer than previous applications of similar systems, said Cambridge Architectural’s engineering manager Jim Mitchell. Many dividers the company has installed are less than 20 feet long, and are often split in the middle. The tabs and aluminum tracks that hold the 500-pound curtain in place are marine-grade—that is, they are fit for sailing rigs. The metal curtain can be pulled open and closed like a security gate, but it retains the smooth movement and look of a curtain. “It gives it the appearance more of a tapestry than a panel, which typically is tensioned and rigid,” said Mitchell. The fabric-like texture is made possible by the closely woven pattern. “The larger ones look more industrial, and they’re a little bulky when they fold up. But the smaller spirals tend to fold and roll together.”
  • Fabricator Cambridge Architectural
  • Designers Cambridge Architectural
  • Location Baltimore
  • Date of Completion 2013
  • Material stainless steel, aluminum
  • Process SolidWorks, wire forming, weaving, welding
To make the tightly knit weave, Cambridge Architectural flipped the typical orientation of mesh curtains, running metal crimp rods vertically across the mesh instead of horizontally. The crimp rods, welded once they are woven through, join the triangular volumes of the curtain. The designers modeled the curtain components in SolidWorks before sending the data to production. In the Angelos Law Center, the orientation of the weave was especially important because of the lobby's tall ceilings. Whether it is locked closed as a true divider, or left partially open like a less substantial curtain, the stainless steel weave is durable and elegant. “The architects didn’t want the standard security grate that you see at the shopping mall,” said Mitchell. “They wanted something with that architectural look to it. Our mesh kind of fits that bill. It’s durable and it’s metal so it’s going to last forever, but yet it still has that look. So it doesn’t look like you’re pulling down a screen in front of RadioShack.”
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Prefabricated Glamping Tents by ArchiWorkshop

Dynamic steel and PVDF structures shelter campers in style.

In South Korea, glamping—or “glamorous camping”—is all the rage. The practice combines conventional camping’s affinity for the outdoors with hotel amenities, including comfortable bedding and fine food. Seoul firm ArchiWorkshop’s prefabricated, semi-permanent glamping structures are a design-minded twist on the traditional platform tent. “We [set out to] create a glamping [tent] that gives people a chance to experience nature very close, while also providing a uniquely designed architectural experience,” said partner Hee Jun Sim. “There are many glamping sites in Korea, but they’re actually not so high-end. We were able to bring up the level of glamping in Korea.” ArchiWorkshop designed two models of glamping tents. The Stacking Doughnut is, as the name suggests, circular, with a wedge-shaped deck between the bedroom and living room. “We put the donuts at different angles, stacked them . . . and simply connected the lines. This line became the structure,” explained Sim. “The basic idea was very simple, but in the end the shape was very dynamic.” The Modular Flow is a gently oscillating tube, its sleeping and lounging areas separated by an interior partition. The shape was created from a series of identical modules lined up back-to-front to produce the curve. Both models feature a white, double-layer PVDF membrane stretched over a stainless steel frame. The decks are built of wood, while the interior floors are carpeted in a cream-colored textile flooring product from Sweden.
  • Fabricator Dong-A System
  • Designers ArchiWorkshop
  • Location Danwol-myeon, Yangpyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
  • Date of Completion 2013
  • Material PVDF, stainless steel, wood, textile flooring
  • Process hand drawing, modeling, AutoCAD, Rhino, 3ds Max, MPanel, laser cutting, welding, bolting
Sim and partner Su Jeong Park “used every possible tool” to design the glamping units. They started with hand sketches, then moved to physical models. “The model wasn’t so simple to make because it was a strong shape [without] straight or fixed walls,” said Sim. Once they had determined a rough form, they bounced among multiple computer programs—including AutoCAD, Rhino, and 3ds Max—to refine the design and create shop drawings. Sim and Park used MPanel to generate the membrane surface. Dong-A System prefabricated the glamping tents off site, laser cutting the components of the steel frame before welding them together. “Because every part of the shape is connected, it had to be super-precise, or the end form would [not be] straight,” said Sim. On site, the structures were simply bolted into place. ArchiWorkshop built eight glamping structures on spec on a site in South Korea. “We actually used the whole site as a test site, to show the world, ‘Hello, we are [here],’” said Sim. The architects are open to adapting the designs to suit different climates or cultures. “What we designed on the test site is very Asian or Korean, a poetic kind of shape, but I think different countries have different clients with different needs,” explained Sim. While Sim acknowledges that there are a number of luxury tents already on the market, he is not concerned. “We had a bit of a late start,” he said, “but we . . . have a different concept with a different kind of approach to the tent.” In the meantime, the challenge of designing outside the box has been its own reward. “We love designing buildings,” said Sim, “but this kind of different structural project is also very refreshing for architects.”