Architectural Component Prototyping

The format for the course Architectural Component Prototyping has changed each time that it has been offered in a continuing effort to cover the broad range of design methods that lend themselves to hands-on work in a workshop, and to take advantage of specific faculty strengths and interests or new technologies as they have become available. It has been co-taught with Ken Kao, Martin Bechthold, with Jude Leblanc as a furniture seminar, and with invited critics. This year the course will be focusing on the issues of control and tolerance. As cad/cam technologies have become more present and available to designers, there has been much discussion about what this might mean to the design professions. We continue to rely on tools, craftspeople and working methods of course, but there are also machine tools available to us that have been incrementally improved to offer increased flexibility, repeatability and short-run productions that were unthinkable 10 years ago. There are new tools available to us that simply could not function prior to the invention of computer-numerical controls, such as laser-cutters, water-jet cutters, 5-axis milling machines, etc. Most of you have noticed that even in the design studio the laser cutters have caused a change in your design method. This change is greatly magnified in industries that supply building components at all scales. There are also the fantastic new computer tools – both hardware and software – that allow us to work differently in relation to our clients, our consultants, and all of the parties that actually produce the real things that get assembled into buildings. These technologies have given us the ability to communicate design intentions and to share documents through internet. To continue to design without taking these new technologies into consideration will soon be considered a retrograde, or at best a romantic way to practice. It has often been said inside this building that we should welcome the empowerment that cad/cam technologies will give us, because they will allow us to take back some control that has been lost since some previous, perhaps apocryphal time. We look forward to being able to make the drawings that get translated directly to the finish materials, rather than relying on a shop-drawing process that gives the fabricator as much or more to say about how our details will ultimately be made than we enjoy ourselves. There is the thought that digital media applied to direct manufacturing will bypass the middle party – we think, we draw, we send the file and shazam!, our work is produced. Nothing watered down, nothing missing, nothing added. In short, no compromise. One intention of the course this year is to look at the question of taking back control, and how this might be done, as well as whether this should be done – is it a grand thing to eliminate from the design process the parties that have taken responsibility for making sure our work will stand the test of time, to introduce the proper bolt patterns, and to make suggestions about the thickness of the metal or wood or fiber-reinforced composites? How will we continue to work with them if we change the process? The other intent of the course is to examine tolerance. This becomes critical once a material or method is removed from a direct and physical context – when you can\’t touch it, measure it, or compare it directly to an adjacent condition. We will be working with digital information; there will be two sites given this term, and each person in the seminar must engage one of them. One site will exist within the School. It will be documented by you and posted on our web-page or web-board for all to work with. The second site is not yet built, but is fully defined in a digital format. It will be built at the end of the term. All of your work will have to engage with the conditions defined by the drawings, rather than physical models. Your own work, whether