Wednesday, February 3, 2010

ACADIA 2009 Revisited: Day 1 - Hardware

Silvan Oesterle
"Cultural Performance in Robotic Timber Construction"

This presentation presented work done by students at the Dept. of Architecture at the ETH Zurich under the guide of Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler. Kramazio and Kohler's work has focused primarily on fabrication that focuses on the use of robotic processes. The challenge of their work has been to explore spatial relationships through digital logic. In this case, the digital logic is utilizing a six-axis industrial robot arm to handle and place building components. The precision and efficiency with which the robot arm carries out its specified tasks results in highly articulated transformative structures. In this presentation Oesterle employed the robot arm to fabricate timber structures that elaborated upon vernacular building techniques and strategies to create serial constructs of wood slats. The interest in this particular process lies in the rationalization of the construction process to enable the designer to "talk" to the robot arm and feed it a series of instructions that it will recognize and that will compose the desired effect. Oesterle outlined the following as the constraints for the design that needed to be coded:
  • A minimum required overlap of half the slat's width between the slats of one layer to the next layer to allow for proper nailing connections.
  • A maximum allowed cantilever of approximately 70 cm for the overall structure during production in order to avoid sagging and deformation.
  • Placement logic for the slats either predefined or through optimization to prevent collisions between the gripper (tool attached to the end of the robot arm) and the already built wall.
  • An end angle that adheres to the +-45 degree limit of the cutting machine to ensure closed flush placement of wood slats.
The result is an elegant proof-of-concept installation that exhibits a high level of 'digital craft.' Oesterle demonstrated command over the analog-to-digital translation process that one must have to successfully rationalize, define and represent a dynamic condition in a parametric environment. Check out Silvan's work here.

Ziggy Drozdowski and Shawn Gupta
Hoberman Assoc Inc.and Buro Happold Ltd.
"Adaptive Fritting as Case Exploration for Adaptivity in Architecture"

Drozdowski and Gupta presented a part of a much larger body of work called the Adaptive Building Initiative, a research endeavor that explores the use of mechanism design that creates adaptive systems in buildings that use less energy, offer more occupant comfort, and use space more efficiently than static buildings. This particular paper presented Adaptive Fritting, an adaptive shading system comprised of multiple layers of glass with identical frit dots, separated and controlled by a disc actuator device that rotates all layers of glass independent of one another in such a way that, from an initial state, the frit dots, in elevation, create a variable pattern as the actuator completes its' 360 degrees of rotation. The resulting variability ranges in its' coverage and demonstrates that it could be programmed to respond to the time of day position of the sun to provide maximum shading of direct solar radiation when it is needed, and can adapt to provide more maximum views when sun angles allow. I highly encourage you to view the animations here, as it can surely explain it better than I. The paper concludes that while adaptive systems are traditionally seen as expensive and impractical, 'movement' in buildings can be accessible if done with high economy and simple elegance.

Herzog and de Meuron
"Digital Technologies, Methods, and Tools in Support of the Architectural Development at Herzog and de Meuron"

As the Head of Design Technology at Herzog and de Meuron, Strehlke is charged with execution of work that stems from the HdM design philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness of every project. To a group of academics at a conference revolving around computation and advanced modeling. That means a lot of custom computer programs written without much of the overlap needed to reuse a script more than just once, a task that Strehlke demonstrated to be as complex as one might expect. At the beginning of his keynote address he outlined a design process prevalent at HdM that, first and foremost, utilized top-down architectural thinking that originates with the principals, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and only employs computational methods when a level of complexity that is too difficult to manage by hand is reached. Strehlke exhibited 3 projects that each reached the aforementioned level of complexity: The City of Flamenco in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain (2003), Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany (2003) and Bird's Nest Lamp (2009).

The City of Flamenco in Jerez de la Frontera
The project is a cultural complex that includes an auditorium, a museum, a school, and a documentation center. For one particular aspect of the project a perforated, load-bearing wall constructed of poured concrete was designed that also embodied ornamental qualities which reflected the cities Moorish past. Strehlke and his team, the Digital Technology Group, a small group of HdM employees created inside the office to enhance and support the creative abilities of the office as a whole through the creation of custom scripts and complex geometric models, took on the task of creating and managing a collection of digitally generated tags, or components, to create the ornament. Each tag contained geometric data for CNC manufacturing, as well as program adjacency information and structural analysis data that assured that the wall provided the necessary points of attachment for stairs on the interior as well as assuring the structural performance of the wall.

This project is a cultural complex in the harbor of Hamburg that combines a pre-existing brick warehouse with a crystalline tent-like structure with two concert halls, a hotel, residential units that float above. A parametric scripting approach was used for a sound diffusing surface pattern for the interior of the symphonic concert hall, as well as for the design of the custom frit pattern of the glass facade. Parametric models of the exterior wall enabled the accurate delivery of a highly complex and varied system of 2,200 glass elements with a high variety of different sizes.

Bird's Nest Lamp
The Bird's Nest Lamp was a project to post-rationalize a lamp that was created in China using a traditional Chinese method of creating a mold with hand tools and casting with the chosen metal. A parametric model was built in much the same way that a parametric model for the iconic Bird's Nest stadium was built. Structural ribs run over a double-curved surface and intersect at predefined structural nodes that have been engineered to assure a sound construct. Using this process it was easy for Strehlke to analyze the existing hand-made lamp to derive these nodes, or 'knots,' input them into a parametric environment and construct the ribs by performing a simple sweep of a consistent profile along curves projected onto the circular lamp geometry.

Strehlke's paper presentation left me, someone most interested in understanding how environmental and structural analysis software can shape a building for high-performance, with a burning question. If computation and advanced modeling is used only when architectural thought has reached an unreasonable level of complexity, what happened prior to the advent of pervasive use of the computer in architecture? I am curious to know how the top level decisions have been influenced knowing that there is a skilled digital craftsman like Kai Strehlke on your side ready to bail you out.

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