Endless table materializes intra-office connectivity in plywood, MDF, and epoxy.When Culver City-based Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWA) sat down with representatives of the Barbarian Group to discuss renovating the advertising agency's new 20,000-square-foot office, one word kept coming up: connection. "Before, they were all in offices designed for one person, but crammed five in each, and scattered," recalled associate principal Chester Nielsen. "It was a pain. Bringing everyone into the open, and having them feel like they were all connected was super important." The architects elected to "surgically gut" the leased New York Garment District loft to create a central workspace for between 125-175 employees. To materialize the theme of connection, they zeroed in on the idea of a single work surface, an endless table later christened the Superdesk. With 4,400 square feet of epoxy-coated surface atop a support structure comprising 870 unique laser-cut plywood panels, the Superdesk is a triumph of programmatic creativity. "Building a big table was not an obvious solution," said Nielsen, "but it's a simple one." The Superdesk began as a series of sketches by president Clive Wilkinson. "Upon first impression we got to this squiggly table," said Nielsen. "It worked really well. Honestly, we've just been refining that." The table's undulating surface lifts and lowers, to indicate subtle divisions between departments, and to create arched overpasses above intra-office "cow paths." The grotto-like spaces under the archways double as intimate gathering areas for up to eight people. From the sketches, the architects built two physical models—the first rough, the second more refined—before taking the design into Revit and Rhino. There they further fine-tuned the form and prepared it for fabrication by Machineous LLC. "Machineous wanted the project very much; they were a good partner on this," said Nielsen. "We worked back and forth to tweak what we needed to make the table constructible." Machineous laser-cut the component parts, including the plywood ribs that shape the Superdesk's archways, using vintage automotive-industry robots. Machineous flat-packed the cut pieces and shipped them to New York, where the desk was assembled on site. The Superdesk's walls are framed in 2-by-4 lumber faced with plywood; plate steel brackets connect the various wood elements. Machineous bonded the MDF tabletop and painted it a shimmering white to give it the appearance of a single connected surface. The crowning achievement of the fabrication process—and the literal polish on the project—was a continuous epoxy pour, completed by rotating teams over a 24-hour period. Despite the complications inherent to prefabricating and installing a massive piece of furniture on opposite coasts, CWA and Machineous managed to deliver their innovative take on contemporary office culture both on time and within Barbarian Group's tight budget. "Something quite notable from the perspectives of both design and fabrication is that it's the same cost as going to Office Depot" for conventional desks, noted Nielsen. What is more, with plenty of surface area for laptops and the other, increasingly minimal, accoutrements of the modern workplace, and with a data and power track built into its walls, the Superdesk "is very, very flexible," he said. "Unlike a typical office [layout], it can change in a day."
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Installation inverts conventional relationship between architectural models and images.Each year, a group of Pratt Institute graduate students is challenged with pushing the boundaries of exhibition design as they curate the student work from the previous year. "The basic brief is for it not to be a show where it's work on white walls, but that there's an installation component," said Softlab's Michael Szivos, who co-taught the 2014 exhibition course with Nitzan Bartov. The spring show coincides with the publication of Process, a catalog of student projects. "The book shows it in that more normative condition, year by year," said Szivos. "The installation works in tandem with that. The hope is that the students come up with something different." This year Szivos' students passed the test with flying colors, constructing a floating display out of Mylar, medium-density fiberboard, cardboard, and Tyvek that upends the conventional relationship between architectural models and two-dimensional images. Most of the students' initial concepts had to do with producing a cloud-like space, a display surface that would have an interior as well as an exterior. They eventually translated the cloud into a Mylar net that acts as both surface and structure. Architectural models, typically relegated to podiums on the fringes of an exhibition, are given pride of place on integrated MDF platforms perforated with attenuated cardboard tubes. The visual work, in turn, is placed on the ground, positioned as if it is being projected from the suspended tubes. Conventionally, said Szivos, "the hard layer is usually resting on the ground; then you have the visual layer above it. Here, the hard surface is flipped upside down and floating." Visitors access the models by ducking underneath the Mylar cloud, then standing within one of several holes in the bottom surface. "The goal was that the models would actually be seen at eye level," said Szivos. "In this case, it's almost as if it's a city of models. Each zone is a place where the models can be viewed on real architectural terms." A second goal was surprise, which the students achieved by concealing the models behind diamond-shaped Tyvek panels attached to exterior of the net. "You don't know what's inside until you engage," said Szivos. The students engineered the cloud structure using Rhino and Kangaroo. In just two months—the exhibition is timed for Pratt's spring open house—the students finalized the design and decided how to fabricate it. The bulk of the cloud is made of laser-cut Mylar panels fastened together with grommets. Loops at the bottom of the panels secure platforms made of CNC-cut MDF scattered on a sea of sawed-off cardboard tubes, while the Tyvek panels (also laser-cut) are held in place with fashion snaps. The entire installation hangs from a tube frame of galvanized pipe clamped to the gallery's ceiling beams. Time constraints led to a few shortcuts. The students initially intended to develop a projection component, but in the end simply printed most of the two-dimensional images and placed them on the floor. They had also hoped to cover the entire Mylar net in Tyvek, but eventually limited themselves to the lowest rows only. Nevertheless, the project effectively demonstrates the architectural potential of surface-as-structure—in this case, a net weighing under 20 pounds that suspends over 500 pounds of weight. "The surface is a structural skin," said Szivos. "What's nice is that even though it's only attached on the outside, there are still interior spaces."
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." 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."
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. 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."
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. 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.”
A software developer gets a subtly intergalactic theme for its new San Francisco headquarters.For the Giant Pixel corporation’s new headquarters, Studio O+A evoked the feel of a sophisticated galaxy far, far away in a renovated San Francisco workspace. With the help of Chris French Metal, Nor-Cal Metal Fabricators, and Seaport Stainless, O+A designers Denise Cherry and Primo Orpilla designed an interior environment that invokes themes from the client’s favorite movie, Star Wars, without delivering a set design for the Spaceballs parody. One of the office’s most notable features is an entry canopy constructed from ¼-inch hot rolled steel plate with laser-cut perforations that sets the office theme with a binary translation of the trilogy’s opening crawling text. “The Star Wars theme placed subtly throughout the office was what the client wanted,” Orpilla, who is one of the firm’s co-founders, said. “With the screen, they also found a way to vet job applicants and collaborators.” Doubling as a puzzle for visitors to the office, the software development company’s founders built an application that converted the film’s opening text crawl into binary code that could be visually translated for fabrication. According to Cherry, the ones and zeros from Giant Pixel’s software were translated to a computer punch code series. In an AI file, letters represented by zeros are punched out, and letters translated to ones were left solid, which was then exported to a DXF that fed the cutting machine. Each panel measures three feet by eight feet, so the character text fits well across most sections, though the blocking bleeds words across lines in a few places. The canopy had to be framed for stability, so Chris French Metal fabricated a from cold rolled steel flat bar and mechanically attached the canopy panels, said Jamie Darnell, project manager and designer for Chris French Metal. For the vertical portion, flush socket cap screws affix the frame to the floor. For the canopy, threaded rod and custom hanger clips suspend five panels from the rafters. To expedite installation, a tooth-like detail locks the panels together and aligns the edges. Less than one year after completing the interiors, an update to the storefront called for a variation on the pixelated theme from the interior. Within the brick and stucco façade, three openings were filled with an oversized version of the binary code that reads as a direct interpretation of the Giant Pixel brand. Eight-and-a-half-inch apertures—filled with tempered single-pane glass and sealed with VHB tape and black silicone—are bookended by two custom pivot doors weighing 800 pounds each. “We push to get in early on projects with the hope of developing collaborative relationships with the designers,” explained Darnell. “It’s more fun that way and the process and end product are usually more interesting in a collaboration than in a traditional design-bid-build process."
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Aerodynamics of transit inform the design for new public seating in busy pedestrian areas like train platforms.Landscape architect Thomas Balsley has been shaping public spaces in urban settings for more than 35 years, from the Bronx to Dallas to Portland. Even at large scales his work underscores attention to detail, all the way down to the furniture that adorns his sites. As a resident of New York since the 1970s, Balsley is all too aware of the way public benches and seating function in densely populated cities. For Transit Bench—fabricated by Landscape Forms custom project team at Studio 431—he designed a seating option for busy pedestrian areas, like train platforms and street-side parklets, where movement engulfs stationary seating. “I started thinking of the aerodynamic aspects of transit and airline design, where the skin of the plane is an important structural component,” Balsley told AN. “I had the idea that this folded piece of skin could be the structure.” The bench, which rests on two sled base legs, is one solid form, made from a single sheet of stainless steel with laser cut perforations that suggest motion. Based off his design for the Redline Bench (one of many products Balsley has designed for Landscape Forms), Transit Bench hones in on efficiency of form and material, something he hopes will become hallmarks of 21st century design. Wrestling to rectify an ongoing inconsistency in bench design—“Why isn’t the back as attractive as the front?” pondered Balsley—Transit Bench’s back extends 1/3 of the way down for a more balanced aesthetic. A skirt folds down to conceal the legs at the front of the bench. On the backless version of the design, the skirt wraps down over the backside as well. Rob Smalldon of Studio 431 took the Rhino design files supplied by Balsley and worked on them in SketchUp and SolidWorks. A sheet of stainless steel was laser cut in flat form, and sent to a press break to achieve its three defining bends. For simplicity and consistency, the same dye was used for all three bends. The legs are also made from one band of steel, as are the arms, which are bent to their preferred shape. “I believe some of the best designs are pretty simple,” said Smalldon, “but there’s usually twice as much effort to make it work.” The legs are bolted to the seat panel to avoid heat deformations and ensure safety and stability. “With the bolted connection, you see rounded bolt heads but no warpage,” explained Smalldon. “It looks and performs better.” In all, the bench is made from four pieces. Transit Bench was designed in New York and fabricated in Michigan. Balsley was pleased with the outcome. “If it was a fabricator I wasn’t familiar with, I would have been there. But Landscape Forms is a top shelf company,” he said. “Our other stainless pieces with them have been extraordinary.”
Architect Elena Manferdini Completes the Colorful, Laser-Cut “Nembi” Installation in South Los Angeles
Seven tons of glass and steel clad a structural stainless frame on the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building.Brooklyn-based metal fabrication company Kammetal and DCM Erectors of New Jersey were selected to fabricate and install the crowning beacon atop the spire on 1 World Trade Center. The fabrication team executed SOM’s design for a dynamic and complex adornment to one of the country’s most anticipated buildings, along with the help of engineers at Buro Happold to ensure safety at 1,776 feet. To craft a 15-ton, 50-foot beacon that accounted for thermal expansion and movement, Kammetal modeled and drew their designs in SolidWorks. The company’s team laser cut 48 triangular 316 stainless steel panels with ¼-inch thickness in a nondirectional finish to clad DCM’s square tubular steel frame. “Before we started the project, we had the structural frame 3D scanned to generate a point cloud,” explained Sam Kusack, president at Kammetal. “Because the structure was so dynamic—it contains zero right angles or reference points—we had to verify the conditions.” Once the angles were defined, multiple processes were employed to achieve the gentle curves of the cone. In order to ensure even bumping, or bending on a press break, the fabricators laser-scribed lines at every 1/8-inch along the panels’ interior. And to securely fasten each panel to the complex angles of the frame, Kammetal also devised a proprietary clip system that affixes each panel without obstruction. Clips that fell along certain angles could not be bent safely and had to be welded into place. To install tempered and laminated heat-soaked glass panels from Oldcastle, Kusack designed a proprietary vacuum panel lifting mechanism to adjust the panels without affecting the edges. “There’s a gap of just 3/8-inches, so it was the only way to handle the panels,” he told AN. The arm required a unique radius and capacity for strength to pick up each panel in a balanced manner and evenly align the gaps. Custom gaskets fabricated in London seal the glass from the elements. Kammetal also realized SOM’s original design for a rainscreen, which serves as a ventilation component. The beacon houses various mechanicals, including FAA lighting, so slots were laser cut to allow for air-cooling. To install the beacon, DCM Erectors fabricated a series of frames, supports, platforms, and transportation devices to safely place the beacon on top of the spire. “The owner of DCM invented a lot of gear and technology to realize this installation,” Kusack marveled. For example, a holding location was constructed at 1,700 feet to assemble the final interior and exterior components that all had to be raised an additional 70 feet so the apex could be lowered into place.
A new exhibition helps a New York-based firm explore indoor and outdoor applications of a new building material.Cosentino is celebrating Architecture Month with Surface Innovation, a multi-media exhibition at the Center for Architecture in New York that presents innovative applications of its new Dekton material. A combination of raw, inorganic materials found in glass, porcelain, and natural quartz, the new indoor/outdoor surfacing material is made with particle sintering technology (PST) that recreates the natural process of stone formation. The company invited six local architecture firms to design unique projects featuring the material, including SOFTlab, a design/build firm known for its mix of research, craft, and technology in large-scale installations and building projects. For SOFTlab, working with a product that could be used for both interiors and exterior applications was an opportunity to reconcile the growing inverse relationship between the skin and volume of large buildings. “We came up with the idea of building something a little more dense than a single story or residentially scaled building, where Dekton may be used,” said Michael Svivos, founder and director of SOFTlab. “We went to a larger scale building, that blurs the inside and outside.” Starting with the idea of a vertical atrium, which often includes biophilic elements like water features and indoor gardens, the SOFTlab design team envisioned an ATRIUn, a uniquely shaped building feature that uses the durability of Dekton’s stone-like properties to bring the outdoors in. ATRIUn is sponge shaped, and breaches the structure’s exterior at various points. “It forms an interior plaza in a building, not as something that’s flat, but spans the height, width, and depth of the building,” Szivos said. The form was generated in Maya. After inserting the apertures along the quadrilinear volume, the physics simulation plug-in generated the smooth, sinuous surface across various levels. For its larger projects, Szivos says the firm typically solves engineering challenges with Arup through an advanced finite software analysis software program. Those optimized, large designs are then sent to Tietz-Baccon, their long-time local fabricator. However for smaller projects where SOFTlab fabricates its own models and project components, the physics tool provides a close approximation of Arup’s services. To generate a model of ATRIUn’s design for the exhibition, the designers translated the Maya drawing into Rhino with Grasshopper to feed to their in-house laser cutter. Since the design was modeled in paper, four sided shapes were fabricated. If the design was realized in Dekton, triangular shapes would be necessary to achieve the complex curvature of the ATRIUn skin. The set volume was 24 by 24 by 36 inches, scalable for a building between 10 and 12 stories. ATRIUn and Surface Innovation is on view at the Center for Architecture in New York through October 31.