Digital Fabrication of Standardless Materials

Katie MacDonald, Kyle Schumann, & Jonas Hauptman

In Ubiquity and Autonomy, Proceedings of the 2019 Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture. Forthcoming.

Digital fabrication techniques have long been aimed at creating unique geometries and forms from standardized, often industrially produced or processed material. These materials have predictable, uniform geometries which allow the fabrication process to be aimed at producing variation through Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) milling of topological surfaces from volumetric stock or profiles from sheet material. More recently, digital fabrication techniques have been expanded and categorized to address the inherent variation in a found material. Digital materiallurgy defines an approach where standard techniques are applied to non-standard materials; in form-searching, non-standard materials such as unmilled timber members or chunks of concrete waste are analyzed for optimization within a digital fabrication process. Processes of photogrammetry, 3D scanning, and parametric analysis have been used to advance these methods and minimize part reduction and material waste. In this paper, we explore how such methods may be applied to materials without traditional standards—allowing for materials that are inherently variable in geometry to be made usable and for such eccentricities to be leveraged within a design. This paper uses bamboo as a case study for standardless material, and proposes an integrated digital fabrication method for using such material: (1) material stock analysis using sensing technology, (2) parametric best-fit part selection that optimizes a given piece of material within an assembly, and (3) parametric feedback between available material and the design of an assembly which allows for the assembly to adjust its geometry to a set of available parts.

Airforming: Adaptive Robotic Molding of Freeform Surfaces through Incremental Heat and Variable Pressure

Kyle Schumann & Ryan Luke Johns

In Intelligent & Informed, Proceedings of the 24th International Conference of the Association for Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia (CAADRIA) 2019, Volume 1, 33-42. 2019.

Advances in computational modelling and digital fabrication have created both the need and ability for novel strategies of bringing digitally modeled doubly curved surfaces into reality. In this paper, we introduce airforming as a non-contact and formwork-free method for fabricating digitally designed surfaces through the iterative robotic application of heat and air pressure, coupled with sensory feedback. The process lies somewhere between incremental metal fabrication and traditional vacuum forming of plastics. Airforming does not add or subtract material or use any mold or formwork materials that would typically be discarded as waste. Instead, airforming shapes a plastic sheet through the controlled spatial application of heat and the control of pressure and vacuum within an airtight chamber beneath the material. Through our research, we develop and test a method for airforming through 3D scanning and point cloud analysis, evolutionary physics simulation solvers, and robotic-aided actuation and control of heating and pressure systems. Different variations and analysis and workflow methods are explored. We demonstrate and posit potential future applications for the airforming method.

Digital Postmodernism: Making Architecture from Virtual Tropes

Katie MacDonald

In Future Praxis: Applied Research as a Bridge Between Theory and Practice, Proceedings of the Architectural Research Centers Consortium 2019 International Conference, Volume 1, 93-98. 2019.

Three decades strong, the Digital Turn is now mature enough to be read as a precedent rather than merely a tool for futuristic forms. Aesthetic fascination throughout the Digital Revolution has cycled through parametricism, cyberpunk, minimalism, and the more recent Vaporwave, New Aesthetic, and Postdigital. The philosophy of Object-Oriented Ontology shapes aesthetic theory and our understanding of the inner lives of things. The aggregation of these influences leads to a new self-consciousness among designers about leveraging digital tropes. In lieu of the road signs and duck buildings of Postmodernism, Digital Postmodernism embraces digital aesthetics and techniques—neon gradients, aggregation, feeds, pixels/voxels, and other ‘signs’ of the digital. Efforts to translate the aesthetics of computer imagery into physical space (and thus into practice) have emerged. Models and architectural follies produced in this vein suggest a material palette for bridging from representation to reality: architects seek to create physical versions of digital models, where the reading of space as being syntactically digital is the point. The implication for practice is thus a return to the linguistic concerns of Postmodernism—in lieu of disciplinary-centricity, however, Digital Postmodernism engages the public’s deep knowledge and familiarity with the tropes of digital space. The grounding of this architectural movement in popular perception suggests the possibility of bringing together architects and public, united in their desire to bridge the parallel worlds of virtual and physical space.

Barriers for Bamboo: Techniques for Altering Cultural Perception

Kyle Schumann, Jonas Hauptman, & Katie MacDonald

In Future Praxis: Applied Research as a Bridge Between Theory and Practice, Proceedings of the Architectural Research Centers Consortium 2019 International Conference, Volume 1, 307-315. 2019.

The potential benefits of bamboo as a rapidly-renewable, low-carbon, sustainable building material are well established, yet bamboo remains underutilized globally due to laborious manual evaluation and fabrication techniques and deeply-rooted aesthetic stigmas in western culture. 5cholarship in this area has the potential to radically redefine the usage of bamboo as a cheap and sustainable material, but in practice the widespread implementation of bamboo is limited by its cultural perception. This paper examines cultural perceptions of bamboo as a cheap and informal or kitsch vernacular material, using existing scholarship and projects to analyze existing methods and attempts in practice to either elevate or transform perceptions of bamboo through built work and engineered materials. The paper posits how new research by the authors aimed at transforming the use of solid bamboo species can radically shift the way in which bamboo is perceived, transitioning from an irregular kitsch vernacular material to a refined material system that mimics accepted conventions or invents new vernaculars.

Structural Performance of Faced Calcutta Bamboo (Dendrocalamus Strictus) for use in Joined Structural Assemblies

Jonas Hauptman, Katie MacDonald, Kyle Schumann, Daniel Hindman, & Tom Hammett

In Proceedings from the 4th International Sustainable Buildings Symposium. Forthcoming.

Bamboo has the potential to be a transformative sustainable building material on a global scale, but remains underutilized due in part to the natural irregularity of the poles and the subsequent difficulties in predictably harvesting, grading, and applying the material in structural applications. Dendrocalamus strictus (Calcutta Bamboo) is a unique species of solid structural bamboo, allowing for applications more akin to a wood product than traditional hollow bamboo. Through facing one or more sides of the bamboo and creating a flat surface through stock reduction, opportunities for constructing consistent and reliable joints are created, whether the bamboo is joined to itself or to other more common flat or linear elements. Facing the bamboo poles also creates opportunities for dimensional and geometric consistency as well as the ability to control certain aspects of structural performance through changing the orientation of the faced bamboo. This paper examines the structural performance of faced Calcutta Bamboo through static bending, tensile strength, and hardness. Comparative performance of bamboo that has been faced to varying degrees, from no faces to four faces, is presented, as well as an analysis of the comparative performance of faced and unfaced poles to other traditional and non-traditional forest products. The research and testing presented in this paper provide direction for future testing and application of faced bamboo in joined structural assemblies.

The Projection of the City: How Time-Based Media Redefines the Agency of Mapping

Katie MacDonald

At Urban Inventories Conference and Exhibition: Urban Documentation as Design Project, Centre de design in Montreal, Canada. 2019.

The recent introduction of real-time mapping applications run on GIS data fundamentally changes mapping, in that maps can now represent the present through the harnessing of big data. This paper takes up the question of how mapping that is able to transform might gain new agency. The context of this inquiry is an academic design studio investigating disaster. Students studying the event accessed real-time media streams as well as GIS and open data to track the unfolding situation. The resulting interplay of projected data and physical topography, translating between the digital and the analog, allowed a focus on the connotative as opposed to the purely denotative. 

Alpine Modernism: Sensitive Identities and Regional Placemaking

Kyle Schumann

In Tradition and Invention: Robert A.M Stern Architects Travel Fellowship 2013-17. 2019.


Social Engagement and the Construction of Place

Katie MacDonald

In The Ethical Imperative, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 106th Annual Meeting Paper Proceedings. 2018.

Today’s Citizen Architect must navigate a world rewired for networked experience. If the internet saw the advent and realization of place as a purely social construct, studying networked engagement and the social art practices that followed offers insights into how architects might galvanize participation and meaning back into the physical world. Place attachment theory once emphasized the way that the physical informs meaning – “attributes of the environment are associated with characteristic experiences. Symbolic meanings are produced from these experiences, and these meanings in turn underpin place attachment and satisfaction.”2 In this new world, symbolic meanings, via experience and engagement, might instead be formed with the intention of creating place – virtual or physical.

Crutches No More: Reframing Philip Johnson's Seven Crutches as Pedagogic Tools

Kyle Schumann

In The Ethical Imperative, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 106th Annual Meeting Paper Proceedings. 2018.

With the discipline of architecture expanding into other fields and the ethical positions of the profession being redefined, a look at past lessons, in retrospect, can equip us to address these concerns. Philip Johnson’s “The Seven Crutches of Modern Architecture” provides such a perspective once the ideas are reframed as pedagogic tools.


The Devil in the Diagram

Kyle Schumann

In Clog: REM. 2014.

Architecture Villanized

Katie MacDonald & Kyle Schumann

In Clog: Prisons. 2014.

Worlds Within Worlds

Kyle Schumann

In Clog: SCI-FI. 2013.