Architects update pre-Columbian building method with modern tools and materials.Matter Design's latest installation, Round Room (on display at MIT's Keller Gallery last fall) was born of a "marriage" between two of the firm's ongoing interests, explained co-founder Brandon Clifford. First, Clifford and partner Wes McGee had long hoped to work with Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC). Clifford, moreover, had been impressed during a trip to Cuzco by the Incan wedge method of masonry construction, in which precisely-carved stones are aligned on their front face, then backfilled with mortar. "This seemed like a tremendously rational way of building," he said. "Ever since then we had been wanting to do a project that translates that process into digital design." With Round Room, designed and fabricated in cooperation with Quarra Stone, Matter Design did just that. Though inspired by pre-Columbian building practices, the installation firmly situates the wedge method in the digital age. Clifford and McGee began by building a rough prototype, a six-component section resembling a half-dome. "We knew that we were going to build something that was round," said Clifford. "Not a sphere, but something that has slow changes in geometry." By focusing on curved spaces, the designers were already pushing the limits of the wedge method, historically limited to two-dimensional applications. With information gleaned from their prototyping session—including the general dimensions of individual units—they worked through a series of models in Grasshopper and Kangaroo, leaning on calculations developed for an earlier project, La Voûte de LeFevre. Clifford and McGee also visited Quarra Stone's Wisconsin facility. The trip "allowed us to get a feeling for where they were going to have problems with the geometry, and make changes," said McGee. "We were able to step in as consultant with respect to applying their tools." Using a water-fed robotic arm, Quarra Stone cut the AAC components—no simple feat. "One critical translation from the Incan technique was the fact that the front edge aligns, but the backwards taper allows for mortar to be packed in," explained McGee. "[The blocks] are machined on five sides." Round Room's components were then shipped to Cambridge and assembled on site by a team of students, including Myung Duk Chung, Sixto Cordero, Patrick Evan Little, Chris Martin, Dave Miranowski, David Moses, Alexis Sablone, and Luisel Mayas. (Austin Smith also assisted throughout the project; Simpson Gumpertz & Heger acted as structural consultants.) The installation team placed the blocks, used scrapers to remove any excess AAC from the front (interior) edge, then piped plaster into the wedge-shaped gap on the back (exterior) side. "Though it was a digital fabrication process, the assembly was quite a craft," observed Clifford. The collaboration with Quarra Stone was a first for Matter Design, which had both designed and built all of its earlier projects. "It was beneficial for us to understand the nuances of what they had to deal with on a daily basis," said Clifford. In fact, the relationship was so successful that Clifford and McGee are continuing it, with a fellowship that will send two researchers to the Wisconsin fabricators. "It's an area we're going to continue working in pretty heavily," said McGee. "It's an opportunity to interrogate this information exchange between designers and fabricators at a higher level."
Posts tagged with "Kangaroo":
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.