Posts tagged with "Matter Design":
By translating an ancient method of masonry into a digital procedure, Matter Design developed Cyclopean Cannibalism as a sustainable alternative to the standard practice of landfilling demolition debris. This project illustrates how the carcasses of previous buildings could be reused as a new material. To do this, rubble is scanned and input into a digital algorithm that sorts random shapes. Each stonelike component is carved by a robotic arm and recomposed into a new construction. In today’s urban context, we generate unprecedented quantities of waste. In order to more intelligently reconsider existing building stock, the profession could learn from cyclopean construction. Can our future cities digest themselves?
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."
New modeling software enables experimental volumetric designIn a revolt against the realm of the 3D renderings they feel contemporary architects are confined to working within, Matter Design's principals Brandon Clifford and Wes McGee founded a studio grounded in digital design that addresses the realities of materials, loads and physicality. Clifford in particular mourns the loss of our "ability to work with volume," so much so that he spent his year as the 2011-12 LeFevre Emerging Practitioner Fellow at Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture researching volume in building with a special focus on stereotomy, the art of precisely carving solids. It was this research that led him to design La Voûte de LeFevre, a vaulted wooden structure that soars thanks to weight and mass, not in spite of it. La Voûte (French for vault) is a compression-only structure, meaning there is zero tension. Think of it like the inverted spires found in Gothic cathedrals. "Those spires are not decorative," said Clifford and McGee in an email. "They are, in fact, redirecting this thrust network down into the column. If you took the spire off the cathedral the structure would collapse" (Watch two short videos Matter Design made to illustrate this point). To design a reverse spire with a perfectly balanced weight ratio, Clifford found that the computer modeling software he needed didn't exist, so he wrote his own. Called Thick Funicular, the program runs a particle-spring library across a desired geometry. "Each particle in the system calculates the distance from the desired geometry and then reassigns that value to its weight,” said Clifford. “It can open and close apertures to make a unit weight more or less relative to its neighbors. Once the calculation has guaranteed that a solution holds a thrust network inside its thickness, the process is complete and the units are carved with their uniquely dimensioned holes. I think the key here is to think of these holes as controlling the volume (or weight) of each unit relative to its thickness and location in the figuration of the vault." Even though stone is traditionally used in stereotomic projects, Clifford and McGee had, among other constraints, a budget to consider, and so chose to work with Baltic birch plywood, which "is homogeneously dense and has significant self-mass." Unfortunately, it only comes in ¾ inch sheets, hardly thick enough for La Voûte's 2 to 12 inch-thick structure. Clifford and McGee knew they would need to glue the wood together in layers, but to reduce waste they "segmented the units, cut them from the ¾ inch sheet material and stacked them together into the rough geometry of the final unit (plus ⅛ inch for safe measure). Those sheets were then placed on the five-axis mill and carved to the precise geometries." If you can't wrap your head around that, watch the video of the milling process. You'll see the five-axis Onsrud router, an incredible machine fitted with a large bit that cuts with the tip as well as with the sides, removing the most material with the minimum effort. After it was fabricated in University of Michigan’s FABLab, where McGee is the director, it was transported to the Banvard Gallery at Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture. Clifford and McGee installed La Voûte from the top down using a compression ring around the perimeter of the room as a tool against which they could measure each row as they worked their way down. Like the spires of Gothic cathedrals, La Voûte was built with a vertical thrust designed to last a lifetime, but because the installation is temporary the individual units are held together with screws and wooden dowels to allow for their removal. Still, La Voûte – or rather the ability to design and fabricate a structure like it – lives on in Clifford's remarkable new Thick Funicular program.