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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The fabrication team cut, folded, and welded 264 aluminum panels into 66 uniquely shaped sun shades.One of the challenges of designing affordable housing, points out Kevin Daly, principal at LA firm Daly Genik Architects, is “managing a balance between the economic forces that demand repeatability and the risk that monotony comes with that repetitiveness.” Daly Genik and LA fabricators Machineous came up with a great solution for Broadway Apartments, an affordable project at the corner of Broadway and 26th Street in Santa Monica, developed by Community Corporation of Santa Monica. The project is made up of four nearly identical building blocks, arranged in a pinwheel plan around the site. Each has a facade primarily facing the sun, so to allow for large windows on these flanks the firm chose to install large, angular aluminum shades, projecting around the windows. The shades also animate the facades, forming a 3-dimensional tapestry along the building’s edge. To provide the efficiency that Daly describes, the shades are all made using the same material—1/4 inch thick aluminum, coated with urethane paint—and the same technique—CNC milling. But in order to avoid the monotony that Daly also refers to, each one of the shades' 264 aluminum panels are slightly different in size and shape. The 66 hoods range in size from 48 inches by 72 inches to 120 inches by 72 inches. The walls containing the hoods are also slightly curved, creating even more variety. Machineous cut each panel using its massive in-house robotic CNC mills, which have six-axis arms that can work in three dimensions. The mills were originally designed to produce cars in assembly plants. Each shade was "unfolded" into four parts from the Rhino documents and the 3D surveying data (to make sure the shades met the curving walls plum) that Daly Genik provided, post-scripted in Excel, and "nested," as Machineous principal Andreas Froech puts it, onto 48-inch-by-144-inch aluminum sheets. Each of the shades' four pieces were continuously welded at the corners to produce a continuous look. Machineous had to make several mockups to try out this technique. A stiffening 2-inch-wide bar of the same material was folded down along the horizontal front edges to avoid any sagging of the up to 120-inch span of the shades. The shades’ immense variety required careful communication. Each sheet had to be labeled with a sharpie after being cut out to keep track of it all since they weren’t built according to location. “Every part is one of a kind and cannot be replaced by another one," said Froech. “That’s always the challenge of designing with multiples and variation. It’s a little nerve wracking. It’s a huge puzzle.” But the puzzle worked, mostly on the first try. “It’s so complex, but also simple,” said Froech. “It’s really just cutting out shapes. But there’s no room for error. If something’s not right it gets complicated very quickly. What you see is what you get.”
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A site-specific installation at the SCI-Arc Gallery transforms a musical composition by Ken Ueno into a digitally realized built environment.A robot, a composer, and an architect walk into a gallery. It could be the start of a corny joke, but instead it’s the captivating formula for Patrick Tighe’s new exhibition at the SCI-Arc Gallery. The composer is Ken Ueno, recipient of the Rome and Berlin Prizes, and the robot belongs to Machineous, the Los Angeles-based fabricator hired to realize Tighe’s architectural representation of Ueno’s music. The installation, entitled Out of Memory, brings together sound, material, light, and technology to create an extra-sensory cave within the school’s gallery space. Tighe began the work by creating a spectrogram of Ueno’s site-specific musical composition, translating the frequency map into points and vectors, which ultimately provided a basis for the digitally modeled 3-D surface. After a framework of forms and thin plastic sheeting was in place, layers of closed-cell foam (for structural support) and open-cell foam (for acoustic value) were sprayed onto the wall assembly. Provided by insulation manufacturer Demilec, the vegetable and soy oil-based foams created a self-supporting parabolic structure as they expanded. There were few transportation costs involved, said Machineous founder Andreas Froech. “It was extremely efficient, and an incredible statement for construction—that you can take construction material in liquid form to a site and expand it there.” Plus there are no seams. Once the foam was in place, Froech’s six-axis robotic milling equipment did the work, using the musical data Tighe created to carve the cave’s interior walls. On the exterior, some surfaces were left untouched, creating a textural play between the carved sonic contours and the natural disorder of sprayed-on foam. Working with lighting designer Kaplan Gehring McCarroll Architectural Lighting and acoustical engineer McKay Conant Hoover, Tighe then transformed the cave into a environment for listening to Ueno’s work. Custom sound software creates an ever-changing musical performance that visitors hear in a series of contrasting chambers, all the while experiencing a newly discovered frontier in digital fabrication.