ACADIA at 25
In sharp contrast to that view is a growing interest in computer-aided manufacturing, computer numerical control (CNC) milling, rapid prototyping, and 3D printing. These methods for creating physical forms directly from digital data have reaffirmed materiality as the product and purpose of architectural design. Examples of this second view were in abundance at ACADIA 2006.
Branko Kolarevic, of Ball State University, spoke about manufacturing surface effects such as the patterning of the rain screen panels in the De Young Museum by Herzog and de Meuron and the tiling of the Federation Square building in Melbourne by Lab Architecture Studio.
Kolarevic described experiments with different CNC tool bits and materials to achieve a variety of effects with economy of time and effort and minimal waste. In the spirit of "mass customization," computational techniques enable large areas to be covered in aperiodic (irregular) patterns inspired by mathematics. These techniques can also support the quest for a unity of skin, structure, and ornament, wherein each part responds to local loads and environmental conditions.
In a similar vein, Luis Eduardo Boza described the unintended discoveries made in a digital craft studio that he conducted at the Catholic University of America. His students learned there are intricate relationships between form, material, tooling, and craft. Digital tools do not always lead to accurate construction, nor do hand tools guarantee craftsmanship. Boza's students discovered there is craft in computing constructible form.
John Elys, of the University of Wales Institute Cardiff and the University of Lincoln, presented "Digital Ornament," an account of adopting techniques of digital 2D surface rendering to manufacture 3D textures for real building elements. He described scanning lace to create a 3D computer model that will be molded into the pigmented, precast concrete panels forming the elevation of the Nottingham Contemporary Art Centre designed by Caruso St John Architects.
Other presentations focused on issues of structure and construction. Mahesh Senagala, University of Texas at San Antonio, presented "Pedagogy of Tensile Fabric-ations." Unlike the "specious curvilinearity" that seems to be in vogue recently, tensile fabric structures, he argues, offer architectural possibilities that are both novel and genuine.
Reliable design and construction of tensile structures depend on a thorough understanding of the material as well as on computational tools. Common CAD packages that treat form as abstraction independent of material are not adequate.
Students in Senagala's design/ build studio employed MPanel tensile structure design software as well as scale modeling to learn the "language" of TFS. When their design was complete, they used computer-aided manufacturing techniques to construct it.
Environmental Technology: Reactive or Proactive?
The increasing sophistication of desktop geometric modeling and rendering software has enabled some designers to create arbitrary or dissociated formalism, unrelated to environmental factors or building performance. This unfortunately relegates environmental technology to engineering specialties as an afterthought to the core architectural design process.
Discussions of "smart architecture" may be similarly flawed if they focus too narrowly on sensors and actuators without regard to the building's fundamental formal interface with the environment. This reactive approach to building performance represents a missed opportunity.
A more proactive approach would apply the power of modern modeling software to devise forms that are particularly well tuned to the complexities and irregularities of the environment, to produce truly smart architecture.
Toward that end, Larry Barrow, Mississippi State University, presented ongoing research titled "Performance House in a CAD/CAM Modular House System." He noted that factory-assembled housing, as exemplified by "mobile homes," are generally less durable than traditional, site-assembled structures. In analyzing the situation, he compared architecture to industrial design, and housing to other manufactured goods.
In particular, Barrow noted, a house in severe weather is subject to the laws of fluid dynamics, as are moving cars, boats, or aircraft. Drawing lessons from those analogs, he has developed preliminary designs for manufactured housing that remains lightweight and portable, yet is more durable.
Tristan d'Estrée Sterk, of Simon Fraser University, presented "Shape Change in Responsive Architectural Structures." Noting that a building's performance and function are intimately connected to its shape, he has studied tensegrity structures that can change shape and rigidity in response to environmental loads.
Pongsak Chaisuparasmikul, Illinois Institute of Technology, outlined his research in a presentation titled "Bidirectional Interoperability Between CAD and Energy Performance Simulation through Virtual Model System Framework." His implementation relies on Revit for building information modeling (BIM), Microsoft Access for a central database, and DOE-2 for energy performance simulation. In his process model, design remains iterative: it still relies on the human designer to modify the building model to improve its performance.
Virtualization, Visualization, and Interaction
Physical construction has real costs in time, space, and material — whether or not it's aided by computation. Therefore, virtual construction and visualization remain important for design development and evaluation, to avoid costly construction mistakes. The user interface is the paramount issue, to provide flesh-and-blood designers with a shared vision and agile control of imaginary spatial entities.
Tomás Dorta and Edgar Pérez, from the University of Montréal, introduced their patent-pending design system in a presentation titled "Immersive Drafted Virtual Reality." Starting with a typical 3D geometric model of the constraining space, the system presents the user with a flattened spherical projection that serves as a background template for design sketches. The system then projects the user's flat overlay sketches back into the surrounding spherical space.
In the same spirit, Ross Tredinnick and Lee Anderson, University of Minnesota, are developing a tablet-based immersive architectural design tool. Their system integrates a 2D tablet computer running SketchUp with a 3D immersive projected display, stereo vision, and position tracking.
Even a flat 2D display, if large enough, can present an immersive experience. At one of ACADIA's intersections with the Idea Festival, Mersive Technologies demonstrated a 50-million-pixel display, produced by an array of 80 synchronized digital light projectors, filling an area 25 feet wide by 15 feet tall (7.6 by 4.6 meters) with 160,000 lumens.
The presentations mentioned here are but a small sample of the innovations presented at ACADIA 2006. The next conference will be hosted by Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, October 1-7, 2007.
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Theodore W. Hall has been developing and teaching architectural software for 26 years, at the University of Michigan, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the University of Hong Kong (HKU), and Deakin University. He is currently the membership coordinator for ACADIA and the chairman of the Aerospace Architecture Subcommittee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.