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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.