A room-filling parametric design makes its way from the classroom to Austin's famous music festival.When Kory Bieg and his students at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture began working on Caret 6, they had no idea that it would wind up at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music and arts festival. But the rippling, room-filling installation soon took on a life of its own. Within months, Bieg’s undergraduates—who had little previous exposure to digital design—had designed and fabricated Caret 6, and assembled and disassembled it twice, first at the TEX-FAB SKIN: Digital Assemblies Symposium in February, and then at Austin’s most famous annual gathering in March. Caret 6 developed out of a research studio taught by Bieg, who is also associate director of the regional digital fabrication and parametric design network TEX-FAB. Selected to chair TEX-FAB’s annual design competition, Bieg knew that he would soon face a problem: how to display the winning entry in a gallery much larger than it. He put his students to work on a solution. “The idea was to create a kind of counterpoint to the winning entry. [We] needed to fill space,” said Bieg. At the same time, the studio would teach the fundamentals of digital fabrication. “It was really just an experimental exploration of what these tools could produce,” he said. Caret 6’s white and grey diamond-shaped cells cascade from a central catenary vault with three column bases. Two secondary vaults project from either side. The front face of the structure flows down to the floor. “The idea is, we didn’t actually know who the winner [of TEX-FAB: SKIN] would be,” said Bieg. “We wanted to design a ground surface that was modular so that we could replace some of the cells with bases for their models.” The 17 students enrolled in Bieg’s course first created individual study models of aggregations and weavings amenable to digital fabrication. In an internal competition, they narrowed the field to three. Bieg broke the studio into teams, each of which experimented with creating volumetric versions of the designs. In a departure from typical parametric installations, Bieg and his students decided to stay away from patterns that gradually expand and contrast. “Our interest was not [in] doing subtlety, but local variations that are quite abrupt, like going from a large cell to a small cell,” said Bieg. “So part of that was a result of the way we structured it. Instead of aggregating cells, we designed a series of ribs.” The primary ribs form the vaults’ seams, while the secondary and tertiary ribs divide the structure into asymmetrical pockets. Halfway through the semester, Bieg called Alpolic Materials, whose Aluminum Composite Material (ACM)—a thin polyethylene core sandwiched between two sheets of aluminum—he had worked with on an earlier project. Alpolic agreed to donate supplies for Caret 6, “so we refined the design according to the material we had,” said Bieg. He also drafted students from UT engineering to calibrate the structure’s thickness, scale, and cantilever distances. “It kind of just evolved from these different processes coming in,” said Bieg. Back in the studio, Bieg’s students used 3ds Max for form studies and Kangaroo, a Grasshopper plug-in, to fit the tessellated diamond pattern to the vaults. They also used Grasshopper to develop an assembly system of binder rings, bolts, and o-rings. Bieg and his team fabricated the installation using UT’s CNC mill. They cut the vault pieces out of Alpolic ACM. The elements closest to the floor are polypropylene, while the intermediary pieces are high-density polyethylene. The students assembled and disassembled Caret 6 manually. At first, they tried working with a QR-code system, scanning each component to determine its location. When this took too long, they projected a digital model of the form on a screen, then called out each piece by number. For SXSW, where they had only six hours for assembly, they subdivided the structure into sections that could be quickly recombined on site. Caret 6 travels to Houston in September, where it will rejoin the entire TEX-FAB: SKIN show. But while the installation has already moved beyond its original context, Bieg insists that it remains rooted in the SKIN competition brief, which focused on building envelopes leveraging metal fabrication systems. “[Caret 6 is] not really a program per se, but more of an experiment about the same concepts that were part of the exhibits at TEX-FAB,” he said.
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A folly in a Rotterdam suburb draws on residents' complex relationship with the city.The residents of Carnisselande, a garden suburb in Barendrecht, the Netherlands, have a curious relationship with Rotterdam. Many of them work in the city, or are otherwise mentally and emotionally connected to it, yet they go home at night to a place that is physically and visually separate. When NEXT architects was tapped to build a folly on a hill in the new town, they seized on this apparent contradiction. “This suburb is completely hidden behind sound barriers, highways, totally disconnected from Rotterdam,” said NEXT director Marijn Schenk. “We discovered when you’re on top of the hill and jump, you can see Rotterdam. We said, ‘Can we make the jump into an art piece?’” NEXT designed The Elastic Perspective, a staircase based on the Möbius strip. “The idea of the impossible stair [is] you’re not able to continue your trip. At first it seems to be a continuous route, but once you’re up there, the path is flipping over,” explained Schenk. “That’s a reference to the feeling of the people living there.” To catch a glimpse of Rotterdam, users must turn their backs on Carnisselande. Yet while the view is in one sense the destination, the staircase ends where it started, in the reality of the garden suburb. NEXT began by experimenting with strips of paper and thin sheets of steel to form the staircase’s basic shape. The architects then turned to AutoCad, where they finalized the design before 3D printing a 1:200 scale model. NEXT worked with engineers at ABT throughout the process. They relied heavily on 3D design software, Schenk said, “because all the steel was sort of double-curved.” Mannen van Staal fabricated the staircase from seven steel panels custom-cut with a CNC machine, said project architect Joost Lemmens. They bent the plates, largely by hand, and assembled the entire structure in their factory, temporarily welding the pieces together. They then disassembled the structure for transport to the site, where the components were re-welded by hand and using a vacuum-cleaner-sized robot. Cor-ten was a practical choice on the one hand because the rust obscures the stitches used to reconnect the seven panels. In addition, said Schenk, “It’s weatherproof, and sustainable in the sense that we’re not using a toxic coating.” The choice of Cor-ten also holds aesthetic and cultural meaning. The orange of the staircase contrasts with the green of the hill. Plus, “it’s a material quite often used in artworks, so of course it refers to the work of Richard Serra [and others],” said Schenk. “I think in short what it’s about is the idea of making a jump, make people be able to make a jump to see the skyline of the city,” he concluded. “We’re using the Möbius strip to express the ambiguity of the people living there: feeling connected to Rotterdam but being somewhere else.”
Boston Valley Terra Cotta restored the Alberta Legislature Building's century-old dome using a combination of digital and traditional techniques.Restoring a century-old terra cotta dome without blueprints would be a painstaking process in any conditions. Add long snowy winters and an aggressive freeze/thaw cycle, and things start to get really interesting. For their reconstruction of the Alberta Legislature Building dome, the craftsmen at Boston Valley Terra Cotta had a lot to think about, from developing a formula for a clay that would stand up to Edmonton’s swings in temperatures, to organizing just-in-time delivery of 18,841 components. Their answer? Technology. Thanks to an ongoing partnership with Omar Khan at the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning, the Orchard Park, New York, firm’s employees are as comfortable with computers as they are with hand tools. On site in Edmonton, technicians took a 3D laser scan of the dome prior to disassembly. They also tagged specific terra cotta pieces to send to New York as samples. These pieces, which ranged from simple blocks to gargoyles and capitals, went straight to the in-house lab for scanning into Rhino. The drafting department combined the overall scan with the individual scans to create a total picture of the dome’s surface geometry and depth. The individual scans, in addition, were critical to making the approximately 508 unique molds employed on the project. To compensate for the eight percent shrinkage clay goes through during drying and firing, the craftsmen at Boston Valley used to have to perform a series of calculations before building a mold. “[Now we] take the scan data and increase by eight percent by simply doing a mouse click,” said Boston Valley national sales manager Bill Pottle. In some cases, the craftsmen converted the scan data into a tool path for the five-axis CNC machine used to make the molds. “We’re doing that more and more in some of our mold making. It also allows us to ensure that we’re recreating them to the most exacting tolerance and dimensions that we can,” said Pottle. The data from the 3D scans also helped the craftsmen replicate the dome’s complicated curvature. “Between the scanned pieces and the scan of the dome itself, we were able to figure out some very complex geometry where each of these individual pieces had the correct shape to them,” said Pottle. For sustainability and durability, the designers at Boston Valley reconfigured the dome as a rain screen system, with terra cotta components attached to a stainless steel frame. But while the rain screen boosts environmental performance, it also demands incredible precision. Again, the 3D models proved invaluable. “The models allowed these tight tolerances. [We] could explode it and make sure everything was connected. It would have been impossible without that level of sophisticated software,” said president John Krouse. The Alberta Legislature Building dome restoration is the first major project on which Boston Valley has unleashed its full array of digital design tools. Krouse hopes its success—he estimates that the digital tools speeded fabrication by 200 percent—will send a message to designers interested in experimenting with terra cotta: “What we’re trying to say to the architecture and design community globally is don’t be afraid to start designing domes with complex geometry, because we’re equipped with all this technology. It doesn’t have to be a square box.”
Experts in digital design will lead four days of workshops and dialog at ICFF.The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) is expanding its program offerings with DesignX, its first ever series of digital design and fabrication training workshops conducted by leading experts in field. The four days of educational sessions will cover digital tools, cloud-based apps, 3D printing, and other related topics. Three-dimensional printing-related courses include Introduction to 3D Printing for Designers; Introduction to 3D Printing Marketplaces; Hands-On Desktop Prototyping for Designers; and 3D Printed Fabrics: Modeling Interlocking Elements with Rhino 3D. Workshops on digital design software and platforms include Introduction to Physical Computing for Designers; Introduction to Cloud-based Applications for Designers; Introduction to Cloud-based Design Platforms; Generative Design Apps: Product Customization Through the Web; Interactive Modeling: Responsive Design with Firefly; Parametric Design: Visual Programming with Grasshopper; Designing in the Cloud: Intuitive Modeling with Fusion360; Designing for Production: Integrated Fabrication with 123D Make; and Real Time Project Visualization with Showcase. Noted luminaries in the digital design field will conduct each of the seminars. Senior TED Fellow Skylar Tibbits will present Matter Programmers: 4D Printing & Bio-molecular Self Assembly. Jesse Rosenberg and Jessica Rosenkrantz of Nervous System will present seminars on 3D-printing and guide participants through the fabrication of a custom accessory with the firm's proprietary apps. Ronnie Parsons and Gil Akos of Mode Lab will help attendees navigate the sea of parametric design tools, from Grasshopper to Fusion360. Andrew Baccon and Erik Tietz will lead the Designing for Production discussion and show designers how to navigate their new web-based service, MachineMade. Andrew Payne of Firefly will walk designers through the platform's interactive modeling services, and Francis Bitoni will connect themes at Modeling Interlocking Elements with Rhino3D. For more information or to reserve your space at any of the workshops, visit designx.is.
Digital design meets traditional Chinese craftsmanship in a pavilion constructed like a paper lanternHong Kong-based architects Kristof Crolla (LEAD) and Adam Fingrut (Zaha Hadid) married traditional Chinese craftsmanship and digital design technology in their temporary pavilion, Golden Moon, which won the Gold Award in the Mid-Autumn Festival Lantern Wonderland last month. The 60-foot-tall structure was built in just 11 days atop a reflection pool in Hong Kong's Victoria Park, proof that "complex geometry can be built at high speed and low cost with the simplest of means," said Crolla and Fingrut, who sought to rethink digital design by "anchoring the paradigm in a strong materiality." To create the "fiery flames," a reference to the Chinese legend of Moon Goddess Chang, Crolla and Fingrut began with a geodesic dome structure made from steel and wrapped it with a bamboo grid made using traditional scaffolding techniques. In this case, however, that "highly intuitive and imprecise craft" was based on an incredibly precise computer generated grid designed to install and bend the bamboo rods into a specialized structure around the steel dome. The dome was then clad with metal wire and a translucent, flexible fabric, two typical paper lantern-making materials, which were then lit up by 10,000 LEDs. The flame pattern and bamboo structure is "based on an algorithm for sphere panelization that produces purity and repetition around the equator and imperfection and approximation at the poles." The dome is wrapped with a diagrid according to a Fibonacci sequence that produces order along the equator and randomness at the poles. Simple drawings of this code were made for the construction team so they could easily mark the intersections between the steel and bamboo structures. Golden Moon is the result of research into what Crolla and Fingrut call "building simplexity," or constructing complex geometries from the simplest means. For example, optimization scripts were used to reduce the amount of fabric "flames" from 470 different units to ten that could stretch and adapt to the curve of the dome. "Preconceptions of building methods and familiar construction techniques had to be abandoned by all parties as both the digital and the material world demanded a new design and building set-up to be devised."