The most cogent critique of Freespace, the current Venice Architecture Biennale, is that it fails to recognize the degree to which contemporary urban space is a result of digital technology and computation. The curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, are practicing architects who wanted their Biennale to return to the basic principles of spatial design and what they consider “the generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda.” There is nothing wrong with this sentiment, but it meant they chose to focus on individual projects and not their means of production. The pair focused on craft; social, political, and technological “demand”; and featured figures and groups like Amateur Architecture Studio (Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu), Cino Zucchi, the Dutch architecture historian collective Crimson, Dorte Mandrup, Sigurd Lewerentz, and the British group Assemble. The results add up to a thoughtful and unique perspective on today’s architecture, but there is little doubt that it bypasses the “digital.” This direction infuriated those who believe that only a focus on digital production is an authentic summary of today’s architecture. For these critics, the results are old-fashioned and no longer offer a relevant analysis or typology, but a “purely phenomenological formal, material, or tectonic understanding of architecture,” in the words of Alessandro Bava. This digital versus demand formulation of architecture is not just a generational divide but represents a profound difference between an architecture grounded in an expression of the digital and one that primarily seeks to respond to site, program, function, and reception. In The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence, Mario Carpo describes the importance of the first digital turn of “mass customization” as one of the most important architecture inventions of all time because it “changed—or at least subverted, upended, and disrupted—almost every aspect of the world.” He sees an unintended benefit of mass customization, the possibility to change the notion of detail and form that has remained constant since Leon Battista Alberti toward the possibility of an “infinite number of variations” for the designing architect. He believes that modern classicism “continues to stifle technological innovation in building,” (even the golden age of modernism was a “retardataire phenomenon”) and this new technology offers a way forward to a new relationship, or, as Christopher Alexander would say, a new “pattern” of parts to the whole. In the 1990s, as Carpo wrote, the “first turn” saw “the best architects adopting and embracing digital change sooner than any other trade” and established the basis for the second wave, in which the avant-garde uses “Big Data and computation to engage somehow the messy discreteness of nature.” But this first wave, as we know, created a new architectural style of “smooth and curving spliny lines and surfaces” that, despite the potential possibility of first-wave, open-source collaboration and a return to medieval-style authorship, led to something else totally predictable. A new style, parametricism, took over and continues to this day, “with ever-increasing degrees of technical mastery and prowess. Ideas and forms that twenty years ago were championed by a handful of digital forms engender architectural masterpieces at a gigantic, almost planetary scale.” This planetary architecture, perhaps because of the high cost of design and construction of the complex forms it can produce, has become, counterintuitively to the claims of many theorists, a truly corporate style of design for the 1 percent and corporations. It should then come as no surprise that many of today’s younger architects are looking for a different kind of architecture and that many of the brightest are returning to the postmodernism of the 1980s. In this way, the current generation are like the designers of the first Venice Architecture Biennale’s Strada Novissima, who nearly 40 years ago looked for an alternate model to the modernism that they believed was destroying the historic layered fabric of our urban settlements. Though this style is still fraught with the problems (primary authorship, individuality, and history as a precedent) that brought it to an end in the 1990s, its reemergence is an authentic and important shot across the bow to technologists like Carpo, who are apoplectic at its return. It is an important attempt to find a way out for the profession, which all too often focuses on neoliberal, avant-garde experiments to the exclusion of real-world problems that daily become more urgent for everyone.
Posts tagged with "digital design":
When Professor Michael Garrison, the Cass Gilbert Centennial Teaching Fellow in Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, thinks about how students are pushing the cutting edge in design, three developments come to mind. First, said Garrison, who will participate in the “Form Follows Performance” panel at the upcoming Facades+Dallas conference, is a heightened attention to materiality. “Our students are keen on new materials, the embodied energy of materials, smart materials,” he explained. This new awareness is largely the result of students’ exposure to the school’s University Co-op Materials Lab, a multidisciplinary space for hands-on exposure to more than 27,000 materials samples. Second is the question of craft. “We find it very interesting that naval architects and NASA call their works craft, but we in architecture don’t know such things,” said Garrison, recalling Buckminster Fuller’s question, “How much does your house weigh?” Thanks to developments in digital design and fabrication, he said, “the old idea of tool and die mass production characteristic of modern thinking in the twentieth century has really changed. Students are able to make something of a more unusual shape.” Parametric design is the new normal in the design-school classroom. Finally, Garrison points to a “new and profound” evolution away from “the hermetically sealed box of the Seagram Building era” to a focus on “thick skins.” These multi-layered facades typically involve a sunshade or other external component, which “creates an interstitial space between the traditional envelope and the new envelope,” said Garrison. Increasingly, students are focused on incorporating adaptive technology into building envelopes, often patterning facades along biomimetic lines. “Whereas the first two decades of the twenty-first century were about unusual shapes, [with] parametric design, we are now moving toward intelligent shapes that are more responsive,” he concluded. Catch up with Garrison and other top AEC industry professionals at Facades+Dallas. Seating is limited; register today.
Sometimes a fresh set of eyes can turn an architectural challenge into an opportunity. Such was the case for Dallas-based GFF, which hired a crop of new design school graduates earlier this decade—just in time to deliver an innovative solution to a seemingly prosaic problem. The problem involved enclosing a bridging element between two parts of a Burnet Marketplace, a mixed-use project in north Austin. The solution, courtesy of one of the new hires, was to streamline design and fabrication using Rhino’s parametric modeling capabilities. Upon seeing the young designer’s presentation on some of the digital design skills he had learned in school, recalled Design Director Brian Kuper, GFF’s more experienced staff thought “this is an opportunity to use parametric design, and Rhino specifically, to not only design a sun control and space-capturing system that we could model in-house for the client, but to go straight to fabrication with our documents rather than take a more traditional approach.” Kuper plans to tell the story of the Burnet Marketplace project in a panel on “Getting it Built: Overcoming Design, Time, and Budget Concerns” at next month’s Facades+ Dallas conference. GFF completed the design work and sent the documentation directly to the fabricator in Austin. The fabricator then water jet cut the aluminum components. Relatively speaking, the entire cycle was complete in a snap. “Something that could have taken a lot of time and effort was really seamless,” said Kuper. “It also gave the message that younger folks have the ability to participate in and impact the design process.” Hear more from Kuper and other facades pros at Facades+ Dallas. See the conference website to register for the symposium and a lab or dialog workshop of your choice.
The proliferation of digital modeling platforms can sometimes seem like too much of a good thing, particularly when transferring data from one environment to another requires complicated back-end manipulations. For those of us without a background in coding, FLUX Factory's Charles Portelli and Karl Garske are offering hands-on instruction in "Seamless Exchange of Geometry & Data: Analysis & Modeling via Flux" in a lab workshop at this month's Facades+ NYC conference. The workshop "deals with interoperability between multiple modeling applications," explained Portelli. Flux facilitates data exchange among applications including Grasshopper and Excel using native plug-ins, putting users "in an environment they're familiar with, so they can just start transferring data and geometry," he said. In addition to helping participants manipulate geometry and data across platforms, Portelli and Garske will also introduce cloud processing features. Cloud compatibility means that users "don't have to use desktops to run time-consuming tasks" including view analysis (sky exposure, solar radiation, shadow study) said Portelli. Workshop attendees will model a building from scratch using Grasshopper, Excel, Flux, and Revit. Portelli, who has attended previous Facades+ conferences but is serving as a workshop instructor for the first time, is hoping "to have people be enthusiastic" about the seamless data transfer enabled by Flux. More generally, he also looks forward to hearing "people's feedback and comments with regard to the AEC industry, including what it's lacking." "Seamless Exchange of Geometry & Data" is just one of several lab workshops on offer at Facades+NYC. Others include:Workshops are limited in size—sign up today to reserve your spot.
- "Parametric Modeling and Adaptive Automation: from Design to Fabrication" with Kyle Watson (Zahner) and Jonathan Asher (Dassault Systems)
- "Advanced Facade Analysis, Rationalization, and Production," with Daniel Segraves of Thornton Tomasetti CORE Studio
It is hard to imagine a better introduction to new digital design and fabrication software than the "Advanced Parametric Modeling: Design to Fabrication" lab workshop at next month's Facades+NYC conference. Dassault's Jonathan Asher and Zahner's Kyle Watson will co-lead a tutorial in the application of Dassault's 3DEXPERIENCE to building envelopes, combining the perspectives of software developer (Asher) and early adopter (Watson). "First we'll be giving a walkthrough of how to use the software," explained Watson. "Then we'll demonstrate some new features available in the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, as well as how it's different" from other automation programs. Rather than passive observers, workshop attendees will be active participants, working through a full facade Asher and Watson will create especially for Facades+NYC. "Our intention is to develop this workshop facade system so it includes everything a typical engineer would be creating for a real facade: fully unfoldable panels, documentation created automatically," said Watson. By the end of the session, attendees will better understand how to leverage automation to generate complex systems. "Since it's our speciality, the focus will be on automation—creating complicated forms and then automating the creation and visualization of multiple panels going into this form." In addition, Asher and Watson will highlight the collaborative potential of Dassault's new platform. "Given that 3DEXPERIENCE is a relatively new software, and we [at Zahner] are among the early adopters, we're getting a lot of chances to experience the collaborative side of the software," said Watson, pointing out that his cooperation with Asher (Asher works from France; Watson, Missouri) exemplifies the easy back-and-forth facilitated by 3DEXPERIENCE. Other lab workshops on offer at Facades+NYC include "Curtain Wall Systems: From Sketch to Completion," taught by Bart Harrington and Richard Braunstein, both of YKK-AP America; "Advanced Facade Analysis, Rationalization, and Production (Grasshopper + Dynamo)," with Thornton Tomasetti CORE Studio's Daniel Segraves; and "Seamless Exchange of Geometry and Data (Grasshopper, Revit, Excel)." For more information and to reserve your space in a lab or dialog workshop, visit the Facades+NYC website.
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). 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.
Eric Owen Moss, principal and lead designer of Eric Owen Moss Architects, has spent decades in the metaphorical trenches of architectural practice. But when he speaks about truly innovative design, he harkens back to the literal trenches of World War I, where German architect Erich Mendelsohn sketched his Einstein Tower, later built in Potsdam. "Mendelsohn was drawing something that no one else was drawing," explains Moss, who will deliver the afternoon keynote address at the upcoming Facades+ LA conference. "It was unique to him and his time and place." Moss contrasted Mendelsohn's work with the "swoopy Maya stuff" so many architects produce today. "There's a danger that the advent of Maya and Rhino and CATIA and all of this [technology] produces generic kinds of buildings," he said. "The power of the tools is dictating the design content." Instead, said Moss, the architect's tools, whether the Bauhaus-era parallel rule or today's digital modeling systems, should be a means to rather than the end of design. "I want to argue that architecture is still personal—it still has the aspect of Mendelsohn in the trenches—and that it's important that architecture not simply be a manifestation of the tools that are being used," he said. "It's not the plane that's flying the people, but the people are flying the plane." Meanwhile, the advent of digital design has introduced another set of problems—or, as Moss pointed out, opportunities. Today's AEC industry professionals use software "that is, by reputation, extremely precise, and extremely exact," he said. "There's a supposition that with sophisticated technological tools, it's all simple—and it isn't necessarily simple." Why not? The complicating factor is the human one. "I'm interested in talking about pieces that don't turn out the way you expect them too," explained Moss. Whatever the software designers promise, bringing a complex building envelope from concept to completion "is not necessarily easy. It's also contingent on the people." Returning to the distinction between innovative and run-of-the-mill architectural products, Moss recalled a recent public conversation with Frank Gehry. "We were talking about what would constitute a radical architecture," said Moss. In the end, he identified three necessary conditions. First, the work has to be inventive on a conceptual level. "It has to move architecture somewhere," said Moss. Second, the implementation of the project must also be innovative. Finally, he concluded, "the political side of the project has to be imaginative—meaning you have to get the city, the developer, the contractor to participate, to buy into it." Learn more from Moss and other facades experts, including morning keynote presenter and TEN Arquitectos founder Enrique Norten, at Facades+ LA, January 28-29. Register today at the conference website.
Kreysler & Associates' Joshua Zabel knows more than a thing or two about collaborating with architects to produce complex facades. "On the design side, increasingly complex projects call for earlier and earlier involvement from us for material and fabrication input," said Zabel. "With increasing frequency we're being called on by architects to contribute during SD and DD phases." Zabel will share the fabricator's perspective on teamwork in high performance envelope design and construction later this week at Facades+AM Seattle. His co-presenters on "Digital Collaborations: Applications, Realities and Opportunities in the Delivery of Complex Facades" include Jeffrey Vaglio (Enclos), David Sandinsky (NBBJ) and Marne Zahner (Magnusson Klemencic Associates). Digital design tools play a critical role in enabling an ongoing dialogue between designers and fabricators, said Zabel. "There's obviously a lot to be said for the ability to pass a 3D model back and forth or share drawings on a screen in real time with someone thousands of miles away," he explained. "It seems easy to forget it wasn't anywhere near as fluid, say, 15 years ago." More specifically, said Zabel, "It's interesting to me when we're able to communicate with architects at the level of programming the toolpath strategy for making molds with our CNC machine. Everything about that notion is enhanced by the collaborative use of technology." Zabel compares contemporary developments in design and fabrication technology to the introduction of another collaborative tool: the telephone. "CAD and digital fabrication processes are such useful tools for construction and collaboration, I imagine one day, like the telephone, we won't marvel at how useful it is, we'll just take it for granted," he said. At the same time, there remains room for improvement. Construction documentation standards, for instance, often necessitate creating traditional 2D models that are "simply impractical" in particularly complex cases such as SFMOMA rainscreen or Bing Concert Hall, said Zabel. The ease of communication "can also lead to overload and an environment where it can be difficult to find a foothold or pinpoint the important thing to focus on where everybody has access to all of the information all the time." Join Zabel and other movers and shakers in the facades world December 4 at Facades+AM Seattle. Register today on the symposium website.
Digital techniques including parametrization play an increasingly important role in the work of many architects, engineers, and builders, especially those involved in the design and fabrication of high performance facades. "Parametrization is a critical path for facade design," observed Perkins+Will energy strategist Sangeetha Divakar. "A choice set of digital tools are being used to achieve this, especially when design options are optimized in response to several end goal parameters." Divakar will share lessons learned from her work in Seattle and elsewhere next week at Facades+AM Seattle. Her co-presenters on "Combined Modeling Efforts for the Optimized Facade: Models, Methods, Materials" include Morrison Hershfield principal Stéphane Hoffman and Richard Green, of Front, Inc. As someone particularly attuned to environmental performance, said Divakar, "What excites me the most in facade systems optimization now is that the line demarcating design parametrization and energy analysis parametrization is fast disappearing." But while the worlds of aesthetics and energy analysis are more integrated than ever, gaps remain elsewhere. In particular, Divakar pinpointed a need for "a direct integration of facade parametrization with engineering parametrization." Hear more about cutting-edge digital design tools including parametrization from Divakar, Hoffman, and Green on December 4 at Facades+AM Seattle. The symposium, a half-day version of the popular Facades+ conference series, features three sessions on hot topics in facade design and construction, with a special focus on designing and building for the Pacific Northwest. Learn more and register today at the Facades+AM website.
The 35th annual conference of the Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) took place in Cincinnati (at Peter Eisenman's infamous DAAP Building) in late October. The international conference is a three-day long academic event presenting peer-reviewed research and experimental work of 50 computational designers, students, and architects. Topics range from material science, biomimesis, geomimesis, robotics, environmental parametrics, and ecological urbanism. The conference was bookended by a series of three-day workshops at the beginning of the week, and a one-day post-conference hackathon, organized by Site Coordinator Brian Ringley (Woods Bagot/Pratt Institute). The workshops provided a range of projects catering to both students, industry leaders, and design professionals. Topics covered ranged from CNC machining to Interaction Design (IxD) to BIM analysis and optimization. Tools featured in the workshops included Processing (Java), Dynamo (Autodesk), and Rhino/Grasshopper. The conference presentations and discussions were distributed between downtown Cincinnati (Deborah Berke's 21c Museum and Zaha Hadid’s Contemporary Arts Center) and the University of Cincinnati two miles north of downtown, where a large portfolio of signature contemporary architecture has been built largely within the past decade. Keynote lectures by Stefan Behnisch, amid.cero9, Francois Roche, and Nader Tehrani were spread throughout the daily sessions. A curated exhibition of installations debuted during the conference, expanding on the ‘computational ecologies’ theme. The exhibition, titled ECO-DIVERSITY: Computation and Identity, will be open to the public through December 6, 2015. “This year’s event was smaller than last year’s Los Angeles-based conference, however the quality of papers and discussions remains at a high level,” according to ACADIA President Jason Kelly Johnson. Ringley saw the conference as a “unique way to showcase innovation embedded within the historical richness of a post-industrial Midwestern context.” Local flavor from this year’s conference included an evening coordinated by Matt Anthony’s Cincinnati Made initiative at a 25,000-square-foot renovated 1850s brewery in the heart of Over-the-Rhine’s brewery district—a neighborhood which contains the country’s largest historic district. Outside the brewery, Giacomo Ciminello showcased his People’s Liberty–funded "Spaced Invaders" projection-mapped video game, an ongoing art project calling attention to underutilized urban spaces in the city. A full list of organizers, sponsors, and participants can be found on the conference website. Papers will soon be added to an open access platform CUMINCAD, a digital library of 8,300 PDF full papers. Next year’s conference will remain in the Midwest: It is coming to Ann Arbor’s Taubman College at the University of Michigan. The theme will be Posthuman Frontiers: Data, Designers and Cognitive Machines. -- Organizers for "ACADIA 2015 COMPUTATIONAL ECOLOGIES: Design in the Anthropocene" include:
- Lonn Combs, Technical Chair
- Chris Perry, Technical Chair
- William Williams, Site Chair
- Mara Marcu, Exhibitions, Website, Social Media
- Brian Ringley, Workshops and Social Media
- Stephen Slaughter, Site Related Events and Publications
- Ming Tang, Website, Site Related Events and Publications
Old and new technologies combine in renovated anthropology building.Tasked with transforming Harvard's 1971 Tozzer Library into a new home for the university's Anthropology Department, Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA) faced a unique set of challenges. In addition to balancing the desire for a distinct architectural identity with the building's literal and metaphorical connection to adjacent structures including Peabody Museum, the architects had to accommodate an expanded program within the old library's footprint and structure. As for Tozzer Library's facade, a mold problem and poor environmental performance meant that preserving the brick exterior was never an option. "It's a generic problem of envelopes from buildings that aren't that old, yet can't stand up to contemporary needs," said principal Sheila Kennedy. "What are you going to do with those buildings? The bold approach here was, 'we're going to build on [the existing] value." By stripping Tozzer Library down to its steel and concrete-slab bones, adding space under a two-story copper roof, and wrapping the exterior in a parametrically-designed brick skin, KVA seamlessly negotiated between Harvard's storied past and the mandates of a 21st-century curriculum. Both Kennedy and founding principal J. Frano Violich are quick to dismiss the notion that the problems with the 1971 building, designed by Boston firm Johnson, Hotvedt and Associates, were anything other than a product of their times. "Attitudes toward energy consumption were very different at the time," said Violich. "[Tozzer Library] was built by intelligent people, but everyone's understanding was different from today." In contrast, he said, for the new Tozzer Anthropology Building, "everyone was on top of every [LEED] point." (The project achieved LEED Gold.) KVA began by substituting 6-inch wall studs for the original 2 1/2-inch studs, making way for improved air circulation and insulation. In addition, they eliminated the potential for mold growth by increasing the air gap between the outside sheeting and the back of the brick veneer from 3/4 inches to 2 inches. With the mechanics of the exterior walls in place, "the challenge, aesthetically, was how do we get a sense of both thickness and thinness in the veneer?" said Violich. Luckily, the question of how to breathe new life into flat surfaces was nothing new for the architects. "At KVA we've been very interested in how one designs with contemporary wall systems, with materials that are thin," explained Kennedy. "How do we express their thinness, but by architectural means and devices give them an architectural thickness, manipulate them formally so there can be a game of thin and thick?" In the case of Tozzer Anthropology Building, the answer was a new entrance pavilion with a three-dimensional brick pattern meant to "seem like carved thick brick—like an archeological find," said Kennedy. Drawing upon their early experiments with digital brick, including those at the University of Pennsylvania Law School building, the designers used parametric design software to tie each brick unit to the building's overall form. "As we manipulated the physical form in 3D, we could see various brick patterns that could develop," explained Kennedy. "It was a hybrid of low-tech and high-tech," she said of the process of zeroing in on corbeling, a brick-stacking technique that allows for overhanging layers. The digitally-derived corbeled texture complemented the depth of ornament found elsewhere around Harvard's campus. "We didn't want to make something that was arbitrary and ornamental, but something that was authentic to our time," said Kennedy. To arrive at a final design for the multi-story entrance wall, the architects again combined cutting-edge technology with traditional expertise. "The actual pattern was achieved through physical experimentation," explained Kennedy. "We did a lot of dry stack work with local masons: We would take the designs out of the computer, then pass them to the masons to test. That was a really fun part of the process." KVA then took what they learned from their real-life experiments back into the virtual world, adjusting the digital design accordingly. Even the flat facades appear unlike typical brick walls, thanks largely to an unusual window arrangement. "When you're looking at the windows, you're not looking at traditional punch windows, or a strip window with a long relieving angle," said Violich. Rather, the windows are shifted to conceal the vertical control joints in the brick. "That helps defuse the veneer quality that brick sometimes brings on," he explained. The floor-to-floor windows further confound expectations by concealing the plenum and—because they are frameless, and punch out rather than in—appearing as much like light monitors as the actual skylights cut into the building's roofline. Tozzer Anthropology Building's recycled-content copper roof completes the dialogue between thick and thin established on the brick facades. "We worked hard in the massing of the design to give a twist to the building," said Kennedy. "That could really only happen in the two new floors." KVA textured the copper roof with vertical standing seams, again using parametric software to arrange different panel types in a corduroy-like pattern. "A lot of times people think advanced facades are super technical, but we can get lost in the technology and why we're using it," observed Kennedy. "[This project] is a good combination of an aesthetic agenda, an architectural agenda, and a technical agenda." For KVA, Tozzer Anthropology Building represents more than just a repurposed campus building. Rather, it offers a provocative answer to one of today's most pressing questions: how to rectify an inherited aesthetic preference for glass with the current push for improved energy efficiency. "Everybody loves glass—we love transparency in architecture," said Kennedy. "But as we move on in our energy transition, we're going to have to develop new ideas about mass and opacity. How can we go back to a pre-modern time, but create something that is contemporary?"
Höweler+Yoon combine cutting-edge tech and age-old craft to complete the Sean Collier Memorial at MIT
On April 18th, 2013, the Boston Marathon bombers went on a crime spree that included the killing of Officer Sean Collier who was shot in the line of duty on the MIT campus. In honor of the slain MIT patrol officer, the university commissioned Boston-based Höweler+Yoon Architecture to design the Sean Collier Memorial—a somber, grey stone structure that marks the site of the tragedy. The heaviness of the unreinforced, fully compressive masonry structure is meant to convey the concept of “Collier Strong,” or strength through unity. Thirty-two solid blocks of granite form a contemporary version of a five-way vault. "Our goal was to not post-tension the structure, to make it compressive and use solid blocks," Höweler + Yoon principle Meejin Yoon told AN, "It could have been built out of concrete or steel, but we wanted solid blocks." The large stone pieces were digitally designed and fabricated to work as a self-supporting structural system. Forces are translated into form via a robust combination of cutting-edge computational processes and ancient techniques for making masonry structural spans. The stones were precisely milled within a .5 millimeter tolerance, so that they fit together perfectly to form a compression ring with a keystone that caps the shallow masonry arches. In the center of the buttressed vaults is a covered space for reflection. The buttresses act as walls that extend out to the surrounding campus context. The novel concept required many moving parts to work in harmony. "It is very pure. It is a simple idea," Yoon said. "It took so much collaboration to make this simple idea have the integrity that it did. There were students from 8 degree programs, including a PhD student, undergraduate architecture, undergrads in building technology, and grads in engineering and architecture." Engineering and design were intricately linked form beginning to end. The whole design process was influenced by a feedback loop of physical, analog, and digital models as well as digital simulation. Massive quarried blocks of stone were cut with a single-axis robotic block saw, then with a multiple axis KUKA 500 robot. Robotic milling processes made the tiny tolerances possible. Some of the blocks took as long as seven days to carve, with machines running 24 hours. Often, the cutting tools would wear down, causing the tolerances to change mid-fabrication. The team compensated by altering the digital model and then the next piece would change to match what had been previously carved IRL. Sensors were placed at each joint as the project was assembled on site. As stonemasons placed the high-tech monoliths into the 32-part final assembly, the structure was a choreographed symphony of new technology and timeless craft. The legible visualization of forces is parallel with the MIT ethos of openness and transparency, while the poetic nature of a dry masonry vault represents togetherness of the community in recovery. The project team also included structural engineer Knippers Helbig- Stuttgart, masonry consultant Ochsendorf DeJong and Block Consulting Engineers, landscape architect Richard Burck Associates, civil engineer Nitsch Engineering, geotechnical engineer McPhail Associates, lighting designer Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, and electrical engineer AHA Consulting Engineers.