Styrene is commonly found in polystyrene foam (styrofoam), a material used for making models and maquettes. In 2014, styrene had been "reasonably anticipated" to be a "human carcinogen" by the National Research Council and now the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis plans to ban its use by next fall. Styrene is also found ABS and even rubber, though it's toxicity in these compounds is still up for debate. As news of polystyrene's hazardous potential spreads however, schools and even cities have started to ban the substance. As reported the university's independent newspaper Student Life, "As of June 2015, cities in 10 different states have officially banned styrene with three others considering to follow suit." New York was one of those cities, banning EPS (Expanding Polystyrene Foam) due the how difficult it can be to recycle. "These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City. We have better options," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio back in June last year. The ban was later overturned. With regards the compound's environmental impact, propylene has subsequently surfaced as a viable alternative. The material is inexpensive and easy to work with, however, when used for model-making styrene has a tendency to be inhaled. This is especially the case when particles enter the air after being melted or laser cut. The Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry outline the consequences of inhalation listing nausea, respiratory problems and in some cases liver damage. The full list of health defects post styrene exposure can be found here and here. Sophomore student Eve Bobrow spoke of her experience with styrene exposure to student life. “When everyone is using it, you could definitely feel a difference in the air,” she said in Student Life. “Sometimes I have to leave studio because I get such bad headaches. There were even times where I felt like I had chronic headaches because everyone was using styrene for their final models.” Fellow sophomore Kevin He said how despite being in his second year at Sam Fox, the issues styrene can cause were never fully detailed. “When I came into the art school, the professors just told us that styrene was dangerous, but never told us about all the problems with it,” he said. “We never had a safety tutorial. I learned how to use styrene through trial and error and out of all the materials we use here, styrene puts us in the most amount of danger.”
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Designers in Indianapolis fabricate a graphic, splintered design.Indiana-based design/build studio PROJECTiONE employs a multidisciplinary approach to its work that runs the gamut from digital to analog fabrication. Founders Adam Buente and Kyle Perry craftily bridged that gap with Synthetic Grain, a set piece for the Young & Laramore advertising agency of Indianapolis that explores the natural knotting and grain of lumber. The team used parametric software to create a graphic, 3D pattern system for an architectural screen that mimics natural variations of wood. Working in Rhino, parallel lines—or the wood grain—were drawn and points were defined within. Each point served as a knot, around which the lines would gently curve. “Our only input for this project were those points in 3D space,” said Perry. To ready the design for fabrication, curves and cut holes for the plywood backing were generated in Grasshopper. Two hundred and eighty slats were laser cut from 4- by 8-foot sheets of polystyrene, including exacted “teeth” along the back of each fin that would slip into negative space scored into plywood backing. Because the screen was decorative, industrial plastics were a suitable project solution. “We needed something flexible so that the fins wouldn’t snap on us, and the pure white color really helped,” said Perry. Laser cutting also produced smooth edges that didn’t require any finishing. Though most of the tolerances were worked out digitally, the designers tested tolerances of the laser cutter with several mockups, and also determined how much of a bend could be applied before the plastic snapped. In addition to physical testing, line angles were also explored within Grasshopper. Since each fin was bent to the plastic’s inherent tolerance, enough tension was created to friction joint each fin into the wood. Eight plywood backing panels were also laser cut with varying curved edges to best optimize the curved patterns of the adjacent fins. A steel frame was fabricated to support the freestanding, 12-foot-long installation that reached 3-1/2 feet in height at a depth of 4 inches. The application for this installation of Synthetic Grain was predetermined, but Perry and Buente were not shortsighted in their plans for the future of the design. “We thought we’d make the Grasshopper definition variable,” explained Perry. “We tried to make it flexible enough to adjust ‘this’ and output ‘that’ quickly, so it could be scaled for a building typology.” At a grander scale, a building screen or parking garage facade could be fashioned from metals or thicker plastics. Retail storefronts could benefit from the visual transparency of the faux bois rhythms, or hospitality projects could adopt it as an alternative to a porous surface.