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Digital Crafting Workshop 5

The fifth and final Digital Crafting workshop “Complex Membranes and the Variegated Material” was held at Kolding Design School August 22-24 2011.  Sean Ahlquist, the founder of Proces2 and Research Associate and PhD Candidate at the Institute for Computational Design at the University of Stuttgart led the two-day workshop.  The workshop explored ideas of material design and ways of using digital tools to tune material performance.  The workshop involved a multi-disciplinary group with different specialities including Joy Boutrup, a textile engineer, Vibeke Riisberg, a textile designer and Helene Jensen, a textile fabricator.   The participants used digital tools to create computational models, and then concepts of precision, scale and performance were demonstrated through the creation of physical prototypes of membrane materials.  Using the CNC knitting machines, these architecturally designed materials were tested at full scale.  The material prototypes were then assembled, tested and discussed.

The aim of the workshop was to investigate the potentials of integrating textile making traditions with computational design tools to understand the potentials for new materials which have designed performance.   Through the development of bespoke complex structured and materially variegated textiles, a new way of thinking about performance, assembly and material connections can be developed.  In the discussions during the workshop, participants developed ideas about the relationship between simulation and material specificity and as well design and fabrication.  The materials that were designed and simulated were then knit using the CNC knitting machine allowing quick feedback in the design process. Ideas could be tested at 1:1 and then refined, creating a creative feedback loop.

Discussions and lectures during the workshop related to the question of how designers can use material design to explore new ideas and architecturally designed engineered materials.  The participants developed ideas about the impact of these new ways of working on design practice.

Interview with Sean Ahlquist, Workshop 5 Guest

The fifth and final Digital Crafting Workshop was held August 22-24 2011 at the Kolding Design School. This workshop investigated the intersections between textile design and architecture.

–As the workshop guest leader, what were your main intentions with “Complex Membranes and the Variegated Material”?

The intention with the workshop was to examine the relationship of a structured surface to its material composition. Often, with structures at an architectural scale defined purely by tensile forces flowing through textile (membrane) elements, material composition is considered homogenous. This is almost a necessity from a design point of view, in which the complexity of the structural system itself imposes, where the simultaneity of resolving structure and geometry challenges the effectiveness of any explorative design-oriented process. The workshop intended to survey variation at the material level and its relation and ramifications to structure as it defines a specific geometry.

–What is your understanding of “variegated material”?

In the context of the workshop, “variegated” was understood as the differentiation of a material’s internal structural logic. The ramification of such variation manifested itself, secondarily, as a “variegated” structural system. This introduced an interesting contrast for the understanding of the term “structure”. As a textile, structure is the term for the fiber composition. This is of course intimately connected to making, but primarily about the precursor – the logic to which fibers are interwoven. Comparatively, in architecture we refer to structure as the resultant artifact. While it refers integrally to the assembly of all elements, structure is the repercussion of materiality, assembly and imposition of internal and external forces. By examining variegated materials and the “bracing” of such the workshop investigated the relation of these two ends of the spectrum of “structure”.

–What were the main areas of experimentation in the workshop? What were the most successful outcomes of the workshop?

While the information-based process of computational modeling to CNC fabrication to assembly has been quite thoroughly tried, tested, and arguably perfected, what this workshop introduced were moments at which the consideration of material behavior jostled that routine. Behavior consisted at multiple levels of the system, from the micro level in the material characteristics of the fibers (elasticity), to the knitting patterns within the textile, and ultimately to the macro level of tension forces acting across the continuous textile surface. What was particularly jarring was the fact that in the process of fabricating the structure of the textile (the fiber composition generated by a CNC knitting machine) behavior was activated via the friction of the bi-directional knitted fibers and done so non-uniformly because of the variegated patterns being utilized. Thus, from the fabrication step a material element was generated that did NOT match the shape that was entered in to the CNC fabrication process. While the focus was primarily on orchestrating behavior in form, it was found that behavior needed to be investigated even at the level of fabrication.

–In the group discussions, we talked about how these ideas begin to suggest a new ideas and workflows relating to simulation and modeling of material performance in architectural practice?

A contribution from this and other Digital Crafting workshops can be seen most fundamentally in the realm of practice: a shift from design in representation to design through simulation. This is also a different breed of simulation as compared to an engineered approach. The engineer, to state it in general terms, utilizes simulation as a proof. In the workshops, simulation is engaged in an explorative process, taking advantage of verifiable principles to interrogate higher levels of performance in function which can be realized through relations between materiality (composition) and materialization (fabrication). The practice of architecture then includes the implementation of specific principles, rather than what is more often the case, generalization of abstract notions and assumptions of a functioning whole. As what was quickly proven in this workshop, assumptions when engaging material specificity through design exploration are almost always wrong.

–Designing with material specificity is not currently common in architecture, why do you think it is important, and how does it relate to your own research?

Image: Sean Ahlquist, ICD-University of Stuttgart

Once considering material as an aspect of performance, the design of its specificity is absolute. This is ever-present in the design of lightweight structures where there is an integral relation between the definition of a geometry and its performance – primarily as a structural system. Where this becomes interesting is in the attempt to define multiple capacities via the specification of material. It not only involves defining (or selecting) the characteristics of the material itself, but also generating its position, and determining its contribution to the global form. This then introduces differentiation as a necessary variable in design rather than an aesthetic choice. Where negotiation between scales of the system (the material make-up or the global form) or the performance of the geometry (as an structural and spatial system) variation provides the only avenue to resolve multiple functionalities.

Image: Sean Ahlquist, ICD-University of Stuttgart

Such an approach is exemplified in the on-going research at the ICD with “Deep Surfaces” – morphologically articulated tension structures. To advance the spatial opportunities with tension structures (in thermal, acoustic, and luminance modulation), the possibilities in geometric variation and relation to material performance have to be explored. The determination of such potentials defines a new set of principles which can then be generatively explored to realize multi-functionality at the global scale of the system.

–your lecture on the Seminar Day, “Computational Design of Differentiated Form” discussed computational design in relation to material behaviours.  How does this relate to your Deep Surfaces research?

An interesting discovery was made from the experiments done in this workshop. My research has focused on the integration and articulation of varied materials within morphologically complex tension structures. Primarily, the materials can be classified as linear “cable” elements and surface “membrane” elements. Both have extremely unique characteristics in relation to their materiality obviously, but also in how they perform structurally. The workshop intended to concentrate primarily on the performance of surface elements – deriving how the movement of force through a material is disrupted (or undisturbed) but the variation of the material structure. In the example shown here, it was actually found that a single continuous surface under-tension with two different structural patterns could act simultaneously like a “cable” mesh with primarily linear forces and a surface with force distributed bi-axially. Such a unique behavior is now being investigated within the research of “Deep Surfaces”, looking at how the manufacturing process is particularly influential in characterizing this behavior and how that logic can be exacted computationally.

Image: Sean Ahlquist, ICD-University of Stuttgart

Image: Sean Ahlquist, ICD-University of Stuttgart

Workshop 5: Complex membranes and the variegated material

Workshop: How to Brace
Autumn Semester 2011: August 22 – 24. 2011
The workshop investigates the intersections between textiles design and architecture. Textiles design is a form of material design. Forming the textile structure and composing different yarns enables the fabrication of highly specialised materials designed in respect to the performance and use. Developing our own bespoke complex structured and materially variegated textiles the workshop asks how the tradition of working with textile membranes can be considered in respect to architecturally designed engineered materials.
The workshop guest is Sean Ahlquist.

Research question
Digital tools allow us a new scale of material address in order to detail and specify materials at a new degree of precision and scale. Architecture is currently engaged in a radical rethinking of its material practice. The evolution of digital media has prompted new techniques of fabrication but also new understandings in the organisation of material through its properties and potential for assemblage. Advancements in material science and more complex models of material simulation as well as the interfaces between design and fabrication are fundamentally changing the way we conceive and design architecture. This new technological platform allows for unprecedented creative control over materials design and production. Creating direct links between the space of design and the space of fabrication, the idea of the hyper specified material developed in direct response to defined design criteria calls upon a new material practice in which designers of artefacts are also designers of materials. In this practice materials are seen as bespoke composites, differentiated and graded, and whose particular detailing is a central part of a projects overall solution.

From the very small to the very large, the imagination of performative materials that are engineered in response to highly defined design criteria are challenging the traditional boundaries of design and representation. Performative materials can be structurally differentiated in response to variegated load or materially graded responding to change in programme or property. Whether hyper specified and designed, what they have in common is that they are developed in response to particular criteria by which the strength, structure, elasticity and/or density of a material can be devised. Not only is this a condition of design purpose – to what performance is embedded within the material make-up and form – but also of design process – how can such integrated behaviour be computed where variables across hierarchies in material, assembly, and performance are interrelated and inextricable. This poses a profound shift in design process, one which is truly computational in nature rather than computerized, where simulation, not representation, and specification, not abstraction, are generative tools. Process forms the intimate relation between specificity in simulation, principle behaviours in material, and the potentials in performance of operation. The research undertaken in this workshop addresses the development of prototypical tools and material performances which may lay the groundwork for future generative and explorative processes.

Workshop: How to Brace
Dates: 22-23 August
Venue: Kolding designschool, Ågade 10, Kolding 3rd floor
In this workshop we will examine the guiding research questions for understanding a new generation of digitally designed materials. We will explore computational design tools as a means of designing structural membranes and their optimisation developing bespoke patterns. In a second step these patterns will then inform the design of variegated materials. We will work with CNC knitting as a means of developing our own membrane materials allowing a new feedback loop between the global (the scale of the membrane) and local (the scale of the material) behaviour of the surface. The feedback loop will critically inform the step of translation between the relative form and force description described computationally to the  variegated knitting patterns, assembly of multiple knitted elements, and ultimately the application of force across the whole continuous system.

Schedule and detailed program: to be posted
Rhino template files for the workshop: to be posted
Indesign template for participants portfolios:
Venue: The workshop takes place at Designskolen Kolding, Ågade 10, Kolding Google maps link here

Kolding Design school is a short walk from Kolding Main Train Station (Kolding Station). Kolding is a 2.5 hour train ride from Copenhagen. You can use : to find the right directions from your departure place.

Workshop 4 report

The fourth Digital Crafting Workshop ”Generative logics: How to grow” was held at the Aarhus School of Architecture January 17-18 2011.  Roland Snooks who is partner in Kokkugia and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and at the University of Southern California (USC) led the two-day workshop. During these days the participants worked with agent-based scripting using the open source software ”Processing”. Discussions and lectures during the workshop related to the question of how designers can use agents-based scripts as a means to explore spatial and formal configuration and how these configurations can relate to material performance and structural logic.

The first day kicked of with a crash course in ”Processing” introducing the basic structure and functionality of the software. From this starting point a basic script was gradually developed to incorporate more complex capabilities exploring agent-based behaviour. These explorations were based on swarm theory as formulated by Craig Reynolds. Reynolds’ work with ‘boids’ describes how individual agents can form swarm behaviour as seen in bird flocks or fish swarms by having each individual agent adjust its position to other agents by considering separation, cohesion and alignment.

The first day was concluded by a reception at the opening of a student exhibition of space installations related to the ‘Morphogenic Studio’ run by Niels Martin Larsen, Sebastian Gmelin and Claus Peder Pedersen at the Aarhus School of Architecture.

The second day was spent on further developing the agent-based scripts. They were expanded to incorporate interfaces that allowed for a more direct and intuitive manipulation of the various parameters controlling the agents hinting at a more general discussion on how to work with scripting as a design tool. The development also included discussions on how to interpret the animated agents and the resulting complex data structures into spatial configurations. This part of the workshop focused especially on using isosurfaces as a way of creating formally coherent structures from clouds of points.

The workshop contained a presentation by Martin Tamke that discussed how agent-based scripting could be used to design a tectonic structure. The presentation was based on an exploration of zollinger construction-principle, where short interlocking members create statically stable construction. Moving from a top-down to a bottom-up organisation Martin discussed how a successful design strategy was developed by encoding individual elements of the structure with instructions on how to attach to other elements, rather than by subdividing a large surface.

The last part of the workshop explored how agent-based behaviours could be used in cellular automata scripts. Finally movies were exported from the scripts to wrap up the workshop. They document some of the different behaviours and variations created through the two days.

Workshop 4 Generative logics : How to grow

Workshop 4
– How to grow

Date: 17.-18. January 2011

The workshop guest is Roland Snooks from Kokkugia
Presentation during workshop by Martin Tamke from CITA

This workshop/seminar will investigate the role of distributed agency within the design process. Algorithmic logic will be used as platform for developing intensive modes of formation. By exploring the structures by which this logic is shaped, the workshop queries how concepts such as generative design and emergence can lead to new models of organization and form in architectural design.

The workshop/seminar focuses on the potential of algorithmic techniques. Through simple rule based systems it is possible to create complex formations similar to behaviours and patterns found in the nature, such as flocking formations, swarm behaviours and plant growth patterns. These systems can then be used as a generative process in the development of the form and organization, where the task of the designer becomes more about setting up rules and parameters that effects the form generating process, rather than explicitly defining form itself. In this lies a possibility for the designer to focus on the tectonic logic of the project as a starting point, moving towards a bottom- up approach to architectural formation. Algorithmic methodologies enable architects to engage emergence, self-organization, and swarm intelligence in the design process, linking the work of architects and designers to developments in biology and computation.

The workshop will introduce tools to engage with self-organization and swarm-based design using the Processing programming language. Processing is an open source platform developed mainly for graphic designers and artists, who want to operate algorithmically without the overhead of advanced programming. It has a simple and playful functionality while also remaining powerful, being largely based on the well-known programming language, Java. The participants of the workshop will be introduced to some of the logics in programming and template applets will be used as a starting point for exploring some of the possibilities in agent-based form generation and self-organization.

Workshop questions:
What is the potential of using algorithmic methods in the design process?
How can terms, such as emergence and swarm intelligence, be operative in the design process?
What are the implications for authorship within algorithmic design methodologies?
How can tectonic concerns be seeded at a local level in facilitating the realization of the project?

Workshop programme: Digital Crafting 04

Venue: The workshop takes place at Aarhus School of Architecture – Nørreport 20 – 8000 Århus. Studsgade Auditoriet.

Digital Crafting 3 Workshop Report Now Online

Read the Workshop Report and Interview with Workshop leader Asbjørn Sondergaard.

Digital Crafting 3 “CNC and Concrete: How to Mould”

The third Digital Crafting workshop “CNC and Concrete: How to Mould” was held at the Danish Institute for Technology in Copenhagen August 18-19 2010.  Asbjørn Søndergaard from Aarhus School of Architecture led the two-day workshop which allowed participants to work in small groups to create digitally fabricated foam formwork for a concrete prototype.  Discussions and lectures during the workshop related to the question of how designers can use morphogenetic tools to allow for structural optimization and how designers can design material logic and performance into digital models.

During the workshop, the first day was spent largely working in groups in the classroom, creating the digital files for the forms and the fabrication data.  At the end of the day this digital information was sent to the robot, and overnight the formwork was milled.

The design of the three prototype panels was carried out in groups. Each group designed one panel and then the panels came together to make a larger design, inspired by the game “exquisite corpse”.  The overall design was that the three panels then could lean against each other and the load paths were designed for this configuration.

The pre-optimized, overall geometry of these was given in Rhino at the start of the workshop.  These rectangular forms were taken into the topology optimization software where the load conditions were specified.  The software gave results for the optimized forms, and these forms were then brought back into Rhino.  This form was adjusted for manufacturing requirements, minimum thickness of concrete etc, using T-Splines, a plug in for Rhino.  These adjustments allowed the further optimization using the criteria of manufacturing constraints. T-Splines was used to create the final forms and those were then exported to the CNC milling software where the tool paths for the robot were created.  In groups, participants investigated different kinds of tool paths, which leave the mark of the robot´s tool in the form.   The CNC software then exports the tool path to the robot and the robot cuts the form.

The next day, when the moulds were cut. We developed three different strategies for milling the elements. Differentiating the milling time we created three levels of detail from the very fine to the very rough. This differentiation was a practical decision as well as a probing one. As the cutting time in the short workshop was limited we varied the cutting time from 8 hours to 4 and finally 2. The different levels of detail gave very different aesthetic expressions.

After milling the reinforcing was set into the moulds, release agent added and the concrete poured and leveled.  In the morning of the Seminar day, the concrete forms were carefully broken out of the milled moulds and cleaned off.

Report by Terri Peters

Performance, Scale and the Beauty of Optimization – Interview with Ole Sigmund

Ole Sigmund is a Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Section for Solid Mechanics, Technical University of Denmark.   He researches the design of extreme materials, smart materials, compliant mechanisms, MicroElectroMechanical Systems, crashworthiness, fluid systems and wave-propagation problems in acoustics, elasticity, nano-optics, meta-materials and antennas.

His lecture was about the applications of topology optimization, and about how materials can be designed to be better performing, solve complex design problems and be beautiful.   Following the lecture the group discussed optimization in relation to material and material design.  The group discussed some ideas about gradient rather than absolute material performance, and materials with potential for form change.

–Could you elaborate a bit on the design potentials of designing for optimization and the challenge of scale (for example nano-scale to building scale in material design) as it applies to your research?

OS: Of course there is a scaling issue since currently our nano-material based structures are very small. However, with improved manufacturing methods this will come soon. For example, one of our current research projects is concerned with surface structuring of plastic parts or bottles with the goal of saving costly painting. We do it using mass-manufacturable, nano-imprint technology we can stamp nano-structures into plastic surfaces, in turn changing their colors or making the hydrophobic.

–This relates to the toy example you described in your lecture – the Harry Potter figurine by Lego?  You mentioned that the most expensive part of the process is not the creation of the ten parts which are assembled to create this figure but actually the way that the glasses and face need to be painted on the figure´s head, separate from the injection moulding process? In your lecture you proposed a new way of creating this, using actual material deformation rather than pigment.

OS: Yes we are using the ideas from butterflies – where if you take a microscope and look at the surface they have nano-structured surfaces that actually create the colours that we see.  The butterflies actually designed their surfaces in order to absorb light at different frequencies.   In this project our job is to make the nano-structuing of the Lego surface so that we don’t have to use paint it just becomes an absorbing surface that makes it look like we painted it.  With regard to scale, of course from smaller plastic parts to building parts there is still quite a step. However, I am convinced that this gap will be bridged within the coming decade.

–There was some discussion about manufacturing constraints and how this must be built into topology optimization design, how do you design with these limitations?

OS: Different manufacturing methods have different limitations. For example in concrete casting it is not directly possible to introduce internal voids. In many cases void regions inside the structure would be structurally good and hence the results of the optimization would contain holes. Therefore we introduce constraint in the optimization that hinder the creation of internal holes (at the cost of worse performance/weight) of the structure.

–This led to a discussion about the aesthetics of optimization – how can and should something “look” optimized or perhaps look “not” optimized?  You said “Whenever I see a structure with circular holes I know it has not been optimized”. What do you think about the relationship between aesthetics and optimization?

OS: I certainly think that an optimized structure is beautiful. However, due to my training I see many flaws in “optimized structures” that ordinary people would not see. Hence, a structure with many circular holes may look light and efficient for many people, however, in my eyes I see stress concentrations and waste of material. Also if I see a curved bar that is supposed to support longitudinal forces I know that the structure is not optimal. Unfortunately one of the workshop structures has such features –this I partly attribute to bad post-processing steps in the used software.   A good example of this faulty optimization is the CCTV tower in China. The outer structure is claimed to distribute the forces in an optimal way, however, to me it is clear that it is by no means optimal and that a much better (and possibly even better looking) could have been obtained using topology optimization. Unfortunately I never found time to test it but I will try to find some students who can perform the optimization study.

–What did you think were the most interesting aspects from this Digital Crafting Seminar?

OS: It was interesting to see the broad range of speaker topics –from my very basic engineering structures that fulfill well-defined optimization goal to the very artificial and complex structures produced by various digital processes. For me, structural beauty is a natural bi-product of the structural optimization process. I hope that this message will be remembered by the participants. The artificial digital processes are also very interesting but I think they should be hooked up with some measures of efficiency to become well accepted in a world that becomes increasingly aware of limited natural resources.

Report and Interview by Terri Peters

Interview with Asbjørn Søndergaard, Workshop Leader “How to Mould”

During the workshop, participants visited the topology optimized concrete structure produced during the Unikabeton research project by researchers Per Dombernowsky and Asbjørn Søndergaard. Fabricated using large-scale industrial CNC-milling facility at Danish Institute of Technology, the structure represents the first realized topology optimized concrete structure. A full-scale version of the optimization experiments undertaken at the Digital Crafting Workshop 3, the prototype reflects the morphogenetic principles of design and conceptualization facilitated by the method of topology optimization.  For more details of the research project see

–As workshop leader, what were your intentions with “How to Mould”?

AS: The idea was to offer a platform for a 1:1 experience with the morphogenesis of topology optimization in relation to robotic fabrication, in order to facilitate a discussion of the implications of the field in regard to related theoretical discourses and technological aspects of production.  In the workshop, we explored the cycle of optimization, remodeling, full-scale milling and casting all within 3 days.  I think the most successful part was delivered by the participants in their dedication to the workshop content, and the discussion that arose from it.

–In your two introductory lectures during the workshop, and in the Seminar on the final day, there were discussions about topology optimization and the aesthetics of optimization.  What parts of this discussion do you think are the most relevant for designers?

AS: It is often the case that a type of formal language emerges as the result of intensive work of experimentation and reflection – and then this language is adopted by others that take interest in the appearance, but not in the process behind it. The language then becomes a self-referring, self-explanatory image of the original thought, but without its coherence.

This sometimes happens with so called “optimized” structures. Actually, the first large-scale topology optimized structure to be realized – the Qatar convention hall by Mutsuro Sasaki – is a good example of this. The structure was originally conceived by a process of optimization, but then simplified into an internal steel rod skeleton clad with non-load-bearing steel plate that imitates the original optimization output.  This means that it lost most of it initial structural logic in the process of realization, although it still formally appears “optimized”.

–How can we interpret the optimized results? Can something be really “optimized”?

AS: We discussed two opposite positions on this: the first position is to say the most interesting results arises directly from computation, without the designer interfering or polluting with his formal preferences. The other position is that the most interesting results arise as a work of the interpretation of the designer, and that the computational process should only secondarily contribute to the appearance of the design.  In my opinion, the first position does not take into account that the premise for any computational process is manmade, and so subject to inter-subjective conventions. No matter how strictly mathematically the process may be, there will always be a modeling setup preceding it, in which several design threads can be pursued, tried and discussed. Also, the computational results need subsequent interpretation in preparing the shape for production and manufacturing – and this is also an area of aesthetic evaluation.

The optimization result within architecture is something derived by both structural and aesthetical consideration.  To misunderstand this is to repeat the modernist attempt to avoid the difficult but necessary question of aesthetics by claiming a false objectivity to the process. I think the question is rather: how do we affect the process of optimization prior to its execution?  And how do we choose to interpret the optimization results formally? I believe many answers can be developed to these questions, varying on both cultural and technological conditions.  The optimization process may actually result in unexpected design discourses that could influence the spatial concept.

Report and Interview by Terri Peters

Workshop 3: Concrete and CNC

Workshop: How to mould

Autumn Semester 2010: August 18 – 19. 2010

The workshop investigates how digital fabrication can lead to new principles of construction for their realisation. The workshop investigates ways of thinking the relationship between the joint and the cast, the mould and the form, the mono-material and the composite.

The workshop guest is Asbjørn Sondergard.

Digital fabrication is changing the making of architecture. Through mass customisation the manufacture of bespoke elements is becoming economically viable allowing for the development of more complex building solutions. But digital fabrication also leads to new structural opportunities. As the direct interfacing between design and production facilitates a higher degree of detail by which the material is addressed this new technological platform is questioning our tectonic traditions and fundamentally reforming the material practices of architecture.

In working with the wet processes of casting and printing digital fabrication has provided new ways of thinking fabrication. Here, a single fabrication logic can produce vastly diverse geometries. On the one hand the interfacing of digital design with CNC milling has allowed a new generation of highly complex individualised moulds to be produced directly from the CAD design package. This facilitates the development of bespoke formwork at a highly reduced costs and material intensity. On the other hand the development of rapid-manufacturing technologies suggests a new practice where materials are directly specified and detailed as part of the design process. In these additive processes the need for formwork creating a radically new position for in which the architect becomes part of a material design practice.

In this workshop we will examine the guiding research questions for understanding a new generation of digitally designed materials. We will explore the making of bespoke formwork the casting of structural elements and question how the increased level of detail and complexity can lead to new structural forms. We will look at how a new generation of morphogenetic tools can allow for structural optimisation and discuss how this material logic can be encoded into digital models. Finally we will discuss and frame the understanding of how full scale printing technologies can become part of our building practice.

Workshop: the role of the mould

The workshop pursues two investigations into a novel understanding of the potential of robotics and concrete:

The structural surface: morphogenetic processes and topology optimisation
The workshop is structured around a set of hands-on experiments working with topology optimisation and the industrial milling of large scale foam based moulds

Topology optimisation is a digital design tools that allow for a material simulation by which the structural form of materials can be optimised for minimum weight and maximum stiffness. The design process uses generative processes by which the given design constraints of structural load, span and activation are calculated. Where topology optimisation is increasingly common in mechanical engineering and aeronautics it remains rare in architecture as the produced formwork is highly complex and often results in bio-morphic geometries.

In this workshop we will interface the structural logics of the topologically optimised with the fabrication of structural surface in concrete. Making use of the Technological Institutes industrial scale CNC robot we will investigate how to inform the making of complex formwork, how to explore their tectonic potentials and how to detail their joinery.

The workshop asks:
– How can a tectonic principal be encoded in a digital model?
– How can we understand the new restraints by which CNC milled formwork can be designed?
– What is the role of detail and surface in this new material logic?

The mark of the tool:
As a subtractive process, CNC milling carves away material to reveal the intended shapes. In this mode of production, the milling of shape is confronted with the logics of creating cutting tracks, the strategies for incremental removal of material. Though theoretically any shape can be milled, significant decrease in production time can be gained by choosing rough cutting tracks, leaving traces of production in the surface.

Schedule and detailed program: 03_WorkshopSeminar03_concrete_sendout.pdf

Rhino template files for the workshop:

Indesign template for participants portfolios:

Venue: The workshop takes place at the Danish Technological Institute – Gregersensvej indgang 3 – 2630 Taastrup –  Google maps link here

The way to get there by public transport is to take the train from the central train station IC 137 fra København H towards  Århus H and get of at Høje Taastrup st. From there you can take a bus 400S (toward Ballerup), 154E or 216. The cabs at the station are very scarce. You can also wolk – it is a bit more than a 10min walk. You can use : to find the right directions from your departure place.

When you are at the Danish Technological Institute you should find entrance 3 and from there room 35 (workshop days) or room 36 (seminar).

Workshop/Seminar 2

Digital Crafting March 29-31 2010, Report by Terri Peters

The second Digital Crafting workshop event “How to Join” was held at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture in Copenhagen March 29-31 2010.  The invited guest Zurich-based Christoph Schindler of Schindler Salmeron led the two-day workshop and one-day seminar investigating ideas about joining materials and geometries using parametric design.  The workshop focused on experimenting with the Zip Shape technology created by Christoph Schindler.  Workshop participants developed variations on the idea of bending two non-identical “teeth” together like a zipper, to hold a bended shape in place.  Rather than using a mould, (the usual way of creating a complex, bended shape) using this method the material is held in place by the design of the “teeth”.  The seminar on the third day related examples of parametric wood construction, with lectures by Michael Hensel from AHO Oslo, Sigurdur Omasson from DTU Copenhagen, Silvan Oestererle from ETH Zurich and Sebastian Gmelin from Arkitektskole Aarhus.

Working back and forth from parametric model to physical prototype, early studies explored: Where is the strength coming from? How do we design the “teeth”?  What bit will bend? How is the material buckling under pressure?  Does the strength come from the glue?

Interesting discussions happened during the workshop and at the seminar including ideas about:

How can we work with material tolerances?

While digital models may assume zero tolerance, it is impossible to make a production or material technology that delivers this performance.  For example, what about the glue?  The glue is a material in itself so it has to go somewhere, and we found that the parametric model has to be designed with the material in mind.   The material tolerances allow a hand made quality, like with steam bending timber for chairs as in the examples in Schinder´s lecture about Zip Shape.   The foam prototypes are precise and machine cut, but that doesn´t mean they are all performing exactly the same, even from the same or similar digital files.  The material breaks, tears and crumbles in unexpected ways under pressure.  Even in the foam prototypes, Zipshape is about using the material to hold the form with glue, rather than using a stamp or mould, which treats the material in a different way.

What is the relationship between variability and complexity?

During the workshop and seminar we discussed definitions of complexity – and the difference between something “complex” and something ”complicated”.  Handcrafting can, of course, be extremely complex, and it seems to not be about scale, but rather connections and joining.

In Schindler´s lecture, he traced the way that tools have developed and how they have impacted technology.  In his examples, the tool changes the material, and creates variation.

What about processes that are reversible, like weaving, where stitches and joining can be undone and redone again?  We talked about hyper-specified, high performance surfaces where the designer is able to add material exactly where the force will be and about how important it is to understand the specific material performance, rather than the general material properties.  Or is it more about understanding overall behaviour, less about how individual pieces work, but rather about how they work together?

Ways of connecting and joining

With Schindler´s lecture as a starting point, we talked about how joining materials and parts usually works in architecture, and thought about examples of conventional methods.  Schindler showed examples of dovetail joints where all the parts are different but not interchangeable with joint marks needed to identify what goes where.  In our group discussion we touched on ideas of joining materials without adding materials or processes, like in weaving, where the joining is in the material itself, rather than in an additional binding agent.  The Zip Shape and Snap Fit examples are more like weaving than like traditional timber framing, because the joining is an extension of the material performance.  (but what about the glue?)

Progress and technology – what is the future for architecture and design?

Just because we can do something, should we? In the discussion based on the Rosalind Williams reading, “Retooling“ we had a group discussion about progress and technology.  What are society´s agents of change? What leads progress? Technology? Societal “needs”?  We discussed how as a profession, architecture is not in agreement about the aims of digital design and fabrication – is it to improve design quality? Cost? Efficiency? Is there a “sustainable” agenda?

To our group, it seems that digital design and fabrication is nearly the norm, we are thinking parametrically and we are generally convinced it is the future.  But is this really widespread considering the vast majority of the building industry values other criteria?   To paraphrase science fiction writer William Gibson, “the future is here, it is just not very evenly distributed”.  We discussed the idea that digital tools allow designs or communication that “could not have been done by hand” –but is this really true? The group discussed ideas about this and asked “does it even matter”?


The discussion began to be about whether or not all design needs to have a “sustainable” agenda.  We did not define the term, which led to everyone having their own idea about what it could mean and therefore not really talking about the same thing, but most agreed it is an overused term but important nonetheless.  Someone asked, “Is there a “need” for digital crafting” and discussion followed about the role of research, design, and innovation.  Surely “sustainability” is not only about “what we need” at the expense of “what we want”?   Some of the group believe it difficult to be critical of sustainability and sustainable agendas but of course this cannot be an excuse for not engaging with such an important issue.  Design quality is also a “difficult” subject but it must be debated and understood.   The group wondered if Digital Crafting should shy away from issues of sustainability or develop a considered understanding of key concepts.  We talked about cost and efficiency as possibly relating to sustainability.  Developing new ideas about material performance is a possible step towards minimizing waste and creating innovative ways of working that could be considered sustainable.  With no mould, the same cost applies if one make one or one hundred Zip Shape prototypes because its about how much the material costs and the time that goes into it.  Zip Shape is not well suitable for mass production in that way but do these ideas belong in a discussion of sustainability?  Is all good design “sustainable”? Is all “sustainable” design good?