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Smartgeometry Day 3: Prototype Fabrication

April 18, 2013
The parametric wave model from a distance.

The parametric wave model from a distance.

JustinJessIn Day 3 of the Adaptive Structural Skins cluster we continued to refine our model to be fabricated at RoboFold.  First step was for me to create a new parametric model in which the surface shape curve was reflected off planes with adjustable height and rotation parameters.  This allowed a variety of interesting waveform shapes to be generated, the most interesting of which were saved, unrolled and sent to the laser cutters for initial prototyping in paper.

Justin and Jess are shown here attempting to assemble the prototype.  (Next time we will remember to tag the panels before cutting so that it is easier to identify them afterwards!)  Getting the flexible card stock lined up and bent to the correct matching curves is quite a challenge.  The problems we will face tomorrow with the final object will be very different.  That material will be a combination of aluminum and polypropylene sheets joined together, harder because they are heavier but easier because the aluminum will have been bent into stable curves providing a better starting point for assembly.

Close up view of the wave folds reflecting off the parametric planes.

Close up view of the wave folds reflecting off the parametric planes.

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Smartgeometry 2013

April 16, 2013
A view of the parametric model I created to dial in the design parameters for our waffle panel fabrication.

A view of the parametric model I created to dial in our waffle panel fabrication.

We are two days into Smartgeometry’s sg2013 hosted this year by The Bartlett, Faculty of the Built Environment in London. This is my second Smartgeometry conference, an annual event that turns the traditional industry meeting on its head with four days of intensive “workshop” followed by two days of invited speakers, or “talkshop.” Within the workshop, the “clusters,” are the key. They are highly competitive both to teach (or “champion” in Smartgeometry parlance) and to attend.

This year I am participating in the Adaptive Structural Skins cluster championed by Dan Piker, well known for his Grasshopper plugin, Kangaroo; Gregory Epps, founder of RoboFold; and a triumvirate of folks from p.art, AKT’s parametric research group, led Daniel Bosia.

The Adaptive Structural Skins Team at Work

The Adaptive Structural Skins Team hard at work

My particular sub-unit of this team is working heavily with Greg Epps and Jeroen Janssen of AKT.  We’re exploring parametric folding and structural analysis through the construction of a waffle folded panel of interlocking elements.  I am constructing a parametric model of the design, which we are adjusting to get jusssst right.  The model will be used in structural analysis, then flattened for cutting the aluminum panels from sheet stock, and finally, as the control path for the robots at RoboFold that will fold the sheets.  It is a fascinating and intensive four day look at the current state-of-the-art in digital fabrication.

Dan Piker provides a little initial inspiration with a truss structure expanded into place with metal measuring tape struts.

Dan Piker provides a little initial inspiration with a truss structure expanded into place with metal measuring tape struts.

I arrived in London a week early.  It has been a jam-packed few weeks of interleaved professional visits and a bit of sightseeing. In addition to the conference, highlights have included finally meeting my friend Arthur van der Harten in person. Arthur, creator of the Pachyderm acoustic plugin for Grasshopper, is now with Foster + Partners’ Specialist Modelling Group. I also had the opportunity to spend two days in Volker Mueller’s Generative Components workshop last week. Today I met with Michael Weinstock of the Architectural Association School for a quick coffee and discussion of architectural emergence

So much for the work part. The in-between spaces have been filled with some lovely sightseeing,  including my first visits to Sir John Soane’s historic house museum, the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory in Greenwich.  Just the right kind of sight-seeing for a solar geek like me!

The City and the City

February 19, 2013
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Cover of The City & The City, by China Mieville

Cover of The City & The City, by China Miéville

The most magical examples of architecture occur, not in real life, but in books and films. Perhaps no other genre exemplifies this better than science fiction, where new worlds and societies are limited only by the author’s imagination and ability to convey the images in his head.

Dune, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 2001 A Space Odyssey, and even Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities…when we think about architecture and urban design, we have much to learn from these stories. They are not about technology, after all, but about how we as humans respond to the influences of that technology and the reality it creates.

Which brings me to The City and the City, by China Miéville. In this combination of cultural science fiction and detective noir, two cities share the same physical space while the inhabitants of one city “unsee” those in the other city. Maps of one city show only crosshatched areas where the other city exists. Instead of a two-dimensional border separating the cultures, a matrix of spaces exists in between.  The greatest crime is “breach” or breaking the imposed barriers between them, and an Orwellian secret police force constantly watches for violations.  And yet, these are societal decisions, not geometric or physical parameters. In the two-dimensional lines drawn on the map, Miéville finds room for a third society in between the two visible ones, striving to remain in control of both while safe in its anonymity.

Real life projections tell us that by 2050 there will be 31 cities with over 10 million inhabitants and that over 75% of the earth’s population will reside in urban areas. Intel Senior Engineer and Innovation Strategist, Herman D’Hooge, on teaching sabbatical at the University of  Oregon’s Portland School of Architecture and Allied Arts, speculated recently about possible responses to this growth. In his talk D’Hooge, tackled the question of how technical innovation can help cope with the increasing density and demands on our resources. How do we understand the impact of these levels of density on society? How do we avoid social strata becoming increasingly divided as we become more densely packed?

Just as in Miéville’s book, we “unsee” people around us everyday: the panhandlers outside the Safeway asking for a handout as you walk by with a Starbucks and a snack. The homeless man sleeping in the office doorway whom you must step over each morning. The untouchables in India. The unseen legions of rag pickers and night soil gatherers in historic London. We protect ourselves by pretending to be unconscious to the things we cannot solve. By not acknowledging the presence of strangers who approach us, we hide from the problem of increasing urban density.

Miéville and D’Hooge have me wondering: what level of ignorance might we assume and what soaring heights of innovation will we maintain in order to cope with the 9 million new neighbors moving to town?

Smartgeometry 2013 Deadline Approaches

February 5, 2013

This is the final week for submitting applications to attend the Smartgeometry 2013 (sg2013) conference to be held April 15th-20th at the Bartlett School in London.

Smartgeometry is highly participatory, which is unusual for an architectural conference. The first four days comprise eight intensive hands-on workshops, referred to as “clusters,” each addressing a specific design topic. Attendees spend the four days exploring a theme led by an expert in that field. Along with the sleep deprived workshop participants, a broader audience attends the final days, which are filled out with guest keynote speakers and presentations of the results of the clusters.

The Generative Components Cluster hard at work during sg2012

The Generative Components Cluster hard at work during sg2012

The sg2013 conference theme, Constructing For Uncertainty, is heavily computational, a departure from the more material and physically constructive projects of the 2012 conference held at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

SG 2012 was hosted in the phenomenally beautiful EMPAC building at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute

EMPAC building at RPI, home base for sg2012

If it’s your first Smartgeometry conference, you’ll want to know how to navigate. It’s important to choose a cluster group that is truly interesting to you as an attendee, both for the topic of study and the leadership with whom you wish to work. Each cluster is limited to about 10 people, so prospective attendees are required to apply and to state their top three choices. The application requires that you provide two pages of materials showcasing your experience and talent, and one – yes, only one – canonical image from your work. From there, a magical selection process assigns accepted participants to the various clusters.

Far beyond the experience of a normal conference, Smartgeometry provides opportunities to work with new colleagues and to form deep friendships with phenomenally creative people, all stretching the bounds of their abilities and expertise. The experience is far more memorable and productive than sitting through a series of presentations of other people’s work while you anxiously await the twenty minutes allocated to present your own.

I highly encourage all interested to attend. Applications to sg2013 are due by February 10, 2013. I hope to see you there!

Woven Wedding Rings by Edmund Harriss

January 16, 2013

I’m happy to present this guest post by my friend Edmund Harris of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Arkansas.  I met Edmund at ACADIA 2011 in Alberta, Canada, and was fascinated by his collaboration with David Celento  in creating tiling patterns by projecting higher dimensional objects into lower dimensions. Edmund’s interesting and colorful blog, Maxwell’s Daemon, details his artistic mathematics. This post describes the process of using mathematics and computational design tools to design and fabricate his and his wife’s wedding rings. It is cross posted on his blog.

Initial design concept for the wedding rings.

Initial design concept for the wedding rings.

To design my wedding rings I started with digital and algorithmic systems. Not for any particular reason except that I am good at them and enjoy the sorts of control they both give and take away from me. The computer makes such methods easier and faster, helping  to develop the ideas and take them out of my head. Here is my design:

The problem then is how to get the ideas and forms out of the computer. There are several options. For anything two dimensional we now all have incredibly accurate printers at home. Even in 3d pretty great options are starting to emerge, such as those detailed at ShapeWays. Yet these technologies did not feel right for wedding rings, perhaps, in part, because they felt too easy.

Reworked concept for strength

Woven wedding ring design concept after reworking for structural strength

Just to make the task harder I also wanted something that retained some sense of the design process; not just a way to make this particular ring but something that could, in principal,  just as easily make any of the other rings that I did not choose. In other words, I wanted a process, something that could take in a weave pattern and give out a ring, or in this case, two. This was the point where it was good to have friends and the process detailed in this post was worked out with – and to be honest, mostly by – Eugene Sargent.

Firstly the design shifted a little bit to allow for a casting process and also give a stronger ring.

The process of weaving the copper wire ring form.

The process of weaving the copper wire ring form.

The next trick was to actually make the woven pattern. We did this using copper wire:

The problem was that we kept on getting lost as we tried to follow the individual strands of wire through the weave. The solution was to consider the crossings not the strands. The strands are labelled 1 to 8, and when they cross they also swap numbers. So if 1 and 2 cross, the strand that was 1 becomes 2 and vice versa. This might sound complicated, but it means that you can forget the individual strands and only need to consider their current position.

In this process we were reinventing the wheel, as it is an ancient technique for creating braids. For example, it is used in the classic hair braiding technique where the hair is divided into three strands. First the right, then the left strand are brought into the middle. With the strands labelled 1, 2 and 3 this would correspond to swapping 1 and 2 and then 2 and 3.

The idea of considering crossings is also used in the mathematical study of braids, called appropriately braid theory. Braid theory can be used to produce images of braids simply by describing the crossings. Using this method we could describe a wide variety of braid patterns and reliably weave them to produce a woven copper ring:

Completed woven ring form in copper

Completed woven ring form in copper

The copper ring can be wrapped round a blank:

Copper form wrapped around ring blank

Copper form wrapped around ring blank

We then used epoxy to fill in the overlaps. We used finished blank for sand casting, making the mold:

Mold created from ring blank

Mold created from ring blank

The mold could have molten silver pored into it:

Pouring silver into casting mold

Pouring silver into casting mold

Here a fairly rough version of the ring is revealed:

Rough cast ring being filed and sanded

Rough cast ring being filed and sanded

With polishing and filing, the cast rings ended up like this:

Woven Wedding Ring design created by Edmund Harris

Woven Wedding Ring design created by Edmund Harris

The key is that this process could be used for any weaving pattern without significant change. In this sense, it is parametric, with the parameter being either a pattern, or more usefully, the abstract listing of the crossings that describes the pattern. On the other hand, the process that uses the parameter is simple handwork combined with the ancient technology of sand-casting. The computer, though a useful tool in the design phase, is not a necessary part of the process.

A Year End Review of Gnarly Architecture in 2012

December 27, 2012
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It has been an inspiring year for the Gnarly Architecture Blog. In this final week of 2012 I’m amazed to look back on the annual stats and see over 7,000 hits originating from across the entire globe.  It has been a year of steady growth and I want to say thank you to all the followers and subscribers from wherever you may be on the planet.

Global hits on Gnarly Architecture for 2012

Global hits on Gnarly Architecture for 2012

It is also interesting to take a look back to see what’s working and what to focus on for the new year.

First, the post with the most hits remains the one following my return from the Murcutt Master Class nearly two years ago. There is nothing like invoking Mr. Murcutt’s name to bring in readers. For anyone reading that post for the first time today and wondering how I feel about the program now, two years later… it was great! What a fun-loving group of people with whom to learn and trade expertise, even if only for a short while. My conclusion at the end of that post still holds true – the real reward of attending the Master Class wasn’t architecture, it was the people I met and what I learned about myself in the process.

As for other subjects, posts in 2012 have reflected my increasing passion for solar design and its focus in my design practice. There has been a lot of traffic around Heliotrope, the solar design plugin for Rhino/Grasshopper which I have developed at Slate Shingle Studio. Postings on Aligning the Sun in Sketchup, Passive Aggressive Solar Design and the Vdara Hotel Solar Case Study all generated very positive responses and these studies will set the direction for the coming year as well.

Smart Geometry is in London this year, and ACADIA  will convene outside Toronto, which will make for great blog posts on my twin passions, travel and gnarly design! It also looks to be an exciting year of growth at Slate Shingle Studio, which I look forward to chronicling here as well. Please return often in 2013 for more solar design techniques, tools, and case studies. I look forward to your visits and comments throughout the coming year!

Vdara Hotel Solar Analysis

December 18, 2012

Damage and light pollution caused by the intense reflections from highly reflective surfaces of new buildings continues to fascinate me as a design problem. This post follows two previous posts ( see WIP: Modeling the Vdara and A Visit to the Vdara Death Ray) in which I’ve explored the development of a simple massing model for analysis of the solar reflection problems experienced at the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, where news accounts describe temperatures reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit and show photos of melted plastic bags and cups.

In this new animation below I show solar vectors generated with the Heliotrope Solar Calculator plugin, constructed on a Rhino5 site plan and animated using Grasshopper. This custom ray tracing targets speed rather than detailed numerical accuracy as it examines the path of solar rays that intersect a small volume of space defined over the Vdara pool area.

I will next be adding shading devices to the Vdara’s south face and pool area to see how far they would have to extend to eliminate the greater portion of the solar heating problems. I will also be taking  a look at similar problems experienced at Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, constructed in 2001, as well as the reflections from the newly constructed Museum Tower in Dallas, Texas which are damaging the nearby Renzo Piano designed Nasher Sculpture Center.

Interestingly, we see an increasing progression of harm and expense created by these three examples. The earliest, the Disney Concert Hall, was corrected by abrading the surfaces of the portions of the building skin contributing to the problem. In the second example, the Vdara shown here, the problem is too large to be easily remedied. Fortunately the problem is limited to harm on the complex’s own pool area, which is closed during the worst periods. The latest example, the Nasher, is the most interesting because it is a new construction causing harm to an existing neighbor which is not only a non-profit cultural institution, but is also partly responsible for creating the positive economic environment that allowed the condominium tower to be built in the first place. The tower is even named to emphasize its relationship to the museum.

It’s clear that we are witnessing a new form of light pollution caused by the intense reflections created from the surfaces of energy efficient glass windows. The problems are documented in both large examples such as those being studied here, as well as small examples where new residential windows are damaging neighbors’ houses. What are the legal rights of those harmed and who is liable when damage occurs? More importantly, can we apply solar analysis using tools like Heliotrope to prevent these design problems before they occur? I believe the answer to this last question is, “Yes!” I’d like to ask Mr Gehry  how he would have changed his design for the Disney Concert Hall had he been able to consider these issues during the design process rather than resorting to sandblasting the building afterward.