To better understand the scale, she drew the programmatic spaces as correctly sized boxes, then extruded them to get a better sense of volume. On a separate layer, she placed 3D people from a symbol library. She also set up a sequence of perspective views at eye level, defining the key points for a walkthrough animation.
From this point on, throughout the design process, these animations proved crucial in evaluating the processional experiences of arrival, being at an event, and departure.
Cerney, by contrast, started with an idiosyncratic study of canopy forms by nesting metal meshes and wires and placing them on a light table to observe the light and shadow patterns. When the two students brought their individual explorations together, they came to two conclusions.
To focus on their concept of creating a lighting phenomenon, they realized they wanted the canopy structures to be more like tree forms yet become light and transparent. Second, they decided to continue using the simple, extruded volumes representing program spaces because their minimalist forms made them blank canvases on which to capture the images of light filtered by the canopies.
Their next two weeks of development involved building another physical model with metal trees represented by thin wire mesh folded into funnel-like forms. This exercise proved useful to demonstrate the beauty of patterns created by light filtering through the transparent metal trees.
But it was not easy to control the forms of these funnels, keep them erect, and connect them to one another. The students did not try to manipulate the landform, which would have been difficult with cardboard.
So at the same time, they built a digital model. They were advised not to use the more sophisticated landform tools because the site was practically flat and could be sculpted as a plain mesh using simple deformation tools.
They constructed the seating, stage and more program elements as simple extruded solids on separate layers and overlaid them on the landform. The metal trees were modeled by sweeping a circular cross section along multiple paths. They were able to scale and move these tree forms around the site freely.
When they made a presentation at the end of their fourth week, their critics acknowledged the strength of their concept but were not entirely convinced about the viability of the monolithic metal tree structures; they encouraged a more rigorous study.
Structuring the Trees
With two weeks remaining before the competition deadline, the students took this advice seriously and focused solely on developing the metal trees using form-Z. They wanted to give the trees unique organic forms while simultaneously ensuring structural integrity and the component articulation that would achieve the desired shadow formation. After some experimentation, they decided to model the tree as a ruled surface, roughly corresponding to how it might be fabricated from sheet metal.
This time, they drew the structural rib's profile in section, locating points where the welds would go for the lateral ties and the metal panels. Then they rotated a copy of this profile in plan and carefully moved the points in plan and section, guided by an approximate Fibonacci sequence to adjust the shape and configuration.
The students then constructed a mesh through these profiles as a triangulated ruled surface. Alternative faces were deleted topologically to make holes to let the light through.
At this point, they used the "Derive 2D Surface" tool in two ways on the mesh surface. Using the "2D Surface from Stitch" option, they generated paths for the structural lateral ties by clicking on lateral segments sequentially. With "2D Surface from Selected Entities," they generated independent triangular objects from all the faces, to make the aluminum panels that would be welded to the ribs. Finally, they "unghosted" the control lines used to construct the mesh and swept a circle along it to make the major structural ribs.
They used eye-level walkthrough animations to fine-tune the configuration of program elements, the placement and scale of the metal trees, and the contour of the landform. They used Photoshop to compose their three presentation boards using images from their form-Z model and the physical model.
Despite being introduced to an array of 2D and 3D computer applications, most students' depth of usage of computers for design is typically limited. Even with technical mastery, it is daunting for a design student to represent an idea in a computable form when computer interfaces are primarily command-based.
It is helpful, as Toffler suggested, for students to have a well articulated and succinct high concept to guide their process of negotiating the command universe. Design competitions can provide a good environment for this kind of learning because they generally have clearly defined programs, project/ site constraints, and — most important — criteria with which to evaluate the design outcome.
Once these ingredients have been identified and distilled into a few important things that really matter, it is easier for students to understand how computers may or may not help investigate the ideas. Students need direction in matching their design semantics to specific features that exist in the available software applications.
They should especially be encouraged to make their explorations in a parametric manner that allows further study and iterative experimentation. Conveniently, competitions help encourage such risk-taking experimentation.
Students in this course are required to present their method of inquiry as part of their presentations. Along with the design content, the process of engaging the digital media becomes the subject of discussion during the critiques. These discussions are important in helping the students discover how a computer application — even if only one or two features are used — can support their design strategy.
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Murali Paranandi is an associate professor at the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He has taught an elective design studio that focuses on engaging computers in the design process for ten years.