Saturday, November 7, 2009

Preliminary Thoughts on Microcosm Studio 2010

The first principle of the Microcosm Studio is: Design should always start with materials. This often strikes students as a strange dictum for a studio committed to aggressive experimentation with digital tools. How are these two aspects reconciled? After all, the digital and the material are fundamentally different, right? Many students assume that if digital tools play a significant role in a designer’s thinking, then design becomes formalistic, visually driven, and detached from the material realities of building construction. That is to say, to whatever extent one embraces the digital, then to the same extent one necessarily loses touch with the material. This assumption too often proves true in schools of architecture, as students use the glossy imagery of digital simulation to substitute for real understanding of how a design is made and inhabited. The Microcosm studio rejects the idea that computers necessarily cast designers into a fantasy world, and instead, it holds that computers grant powerful new control over material reality, when they are wielded properly.

In the conventional (non-Microcosm) approach, digital design starts with a formal idea (i.e., a parti) or some other kind of geometry, which is tested visually through various simulations (e.g., models, renderings) before finally being constructed out of materials. The dominant flow is from digital to material. The digital is formative, while the material is conclusive. Microcosm reverses this flow, moving instead from material to digital. Through hands-on experimentation with materials and through the iterative fabrication of prototypes, designers find new creative potential in materials that inspires formal ideas. Armed with this insight, designers then encode a material’s interesting properties and behaviors, using this information to generate and explore digital simulations. Insight gained from this second wave of experiments then facilitates the fabrication of more prototypes. The flow becomes an iterative cycle from material to digital and back to material again.

The project sequence for this year’s studio reveals that Microcosm is grounded in materials research, prototyping and a careful consideration of the interaction between material systems and human inhabitants. Digital tools are engaged intensely in this effort, but the question is how to engage digital tools competitively and to our fullest advantage as we reshape the material world.

Project 1: PANEL

The first project introduces students to a method of materials research and prototyping. The final product is a full-scale prototype of one panel for a proposed curtainwall shading system.

Project 2: JIG

In the second project students learn how to extend the exploration of materials into the digital medium, using parametric thinking and mass-customization to augment understanding and creative control of materials. The final product is a large-scale model representing a design for a pedestrian bridge across a forested gorge in Grant Park on the south side of Milwaukee, which will replace a deteriorating existing bridge.

Project 3: LOW-TECH

Armed with a new set of principles and methods from the first two projects, students will tackle an expanded version of the challenge presented in Project Two. They will explore the creative potential of a cheap, off-the-shelf building system such as aluminum siding, electrical conduit or wood stud framing. Through creative materials research, iterative prototyping and parametric analysis, they will transform a banal, low-tech building system into an innovative ceiling or partition system. The final product is a full-scale ceiling or partition prototype. Because it is made out of cheap "Home Depot" materials, the cost of the prototype will be comparable to the kind of pristine basswood model students often make in a conventional studio, yet these seemingly ordinary "Home Depot" materials will be transformed into a customized, exotic, compelling, architectural organism.


The first three projects focus on materials, building systems and the hands-on making of architectural fragments: panel, structure, ceiling, and wall. Project four shifts the focus from materials to space, asking questions about how people inhabit and experience buildings, and how designers can deploy material systems to offer meaningful habitation. The scale also increases to that of an entire building with multiple building systems and a program of spaces to be resolved on a real site. (The details of the program and site will be revealed later.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pike Loop

Went to the opening night for this project last week when I was in New York with Gil's IP/BIM studio. The wall is called Pike Loop- a site specific installation designed by Gramazio & Kohler Architecture and Digital Fabrication, sponsored by Storefront for Art & Architecture. It was built by an industrial robotic arm housed in a shipping container on the back of a flatbed truck. It took 4 weeks to complete and used more than 7,000 bricks (attached with epoxy).

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mobile Mass Customization

building blog article


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mass-Customization for your Basement

videoWith wavering uncertainty over the future of the RP Lab, and the missed opportunity to test design ideas at full-scale, I researched 3-axis CNC systems.

I settled on a design that I thought would prove the most robust after certain compromises were made: Stiffness had to be weighed against portability and speed with budget.

The end result is a machine that is by no means industrial, but is very versatile. For instance, the plate that mounts the router spindle can be swapped for a plasma cutting setup. I can cut most non-metallic materials and even some non-ferrous metals (at slow speed with a router spindle).

The cutting product on the video is unimpressive, a few scribbles I threw into microstation. I have, just recently, cut some geometric patterns with great results. So far, I been within +/-.01" accuracy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What is the Microcosm Studio?

Contemporary culture embraces complexity in countless forms: networked mobile computing, news on-demand, global air travel, mobcasting, robotic-assisted surgery, computer-controlled fabrication, global positioning systems and Facebook. Each of us is part of an increasingly integrated global system that offers higher and higher degrees of local, individual influence. This is an unprecedented kind of order, which defies traditional categorization. The world is both orderly and unpredictable. Its parts are both integrated and independent. The world can no longer be convincingly described as centrally-planned or as a chaotic mess. Instead, it is a complex dynamic system.

This view is transforming diverse fields of inquiry from robotics to economics and from software development to architecture. Whereas architects have predominately sought simplicity and regularity in design, a new movement explores architecture as complex and diverse. The Microcosm studio investigates and extends this work, using emerging technologies and design methods to understand and channel complexity, rather than deny it.

Students undertake a series of short-duration research projects culminating in the design of a complex building. Based on empirical experiments and a review of writings in complexity theory, students identify the properties of complex systems, including non-cyclical order, emergence, redundancy, ubiquitous difference, and rule-based behavior. In early experiments, students test common materials such as concrete, glass and aluminum. By subjecting them to a tooling or chemical process, unexpected behaviors emerge. These behaviors are documented and tested further to reveal architectural potential. In another set of experiments, students analyze biological organisms and identify parametric rule-sets used to reproduce the organisms’ geometry. The geometry is then tested for its structural potential. In a final set of experiments, students integrate the results of material and geometric research to design a mass-customized, parametrically-controlled, architectural enclosure system.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I chose to relate project five back to our material research in project one. Still have some work to do on it, but what I have so far is the development of a script, producing geometry representative of the spackle extrusions. Molds for the base could be easily produced using a CNC mill, then individual units could be created using vacuum formed plastic or slumped glass. Units would be translucent to accentuate the overlap of layers in each piece and let light in.

yes, i need to keep working.

. . .


more on the way...

smart enclosure


here's a timelapse animation i put together while completing a model to illustrate my intentions with the enclosure system. The first half is the fabrication of the screen wall.... the second half is an attempt at showing how the wall may react to various local stimulus by opening.

It's a little pschysophrenic at the end, but the intention is for a scaled effect across a lattice framework that will be responsive to the local environment. For example each panel will continually monitor the air within the machine shop for fumes, heat, humidity, etc. and based off a given set of parameters will react by opening up to allow for ventilation.

once i figure out how to digitally model this system some images will follow..... it's rough at this point, just trying to flush things out.

project 5

Theme statement:
The process of making is as important as the product. Free will is integral to the fostering of the creative impulse.

project_5-digifab workshop