Materials and Fabrication Processes: An Introduction to Digital Techniques

Computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) techniques, often referred to as digital fabrication, are now in a post-infancy period and widely adopted for the production of architecture. However, as technology continues to evolve, this rapidly changing field presents architects and designers with new challenges and opportunities. Introducing students to these technologies allows them to gain the skills needed to further their capabilities in today’s developing design professions.

This course introduces and explores the current state of digital approaches in design by focusing on the inter-relationship between geometry creation, material properties and fabrication realities. Beginning with the development of a collective and homogeneous surface, students will study and work within a series of geometry creation and fabrication techniques with increasing levels of complexity. The integration of analog properties of materials (wood-grain, metal fatigue, composite systems, plastic memory and translucency) in the study of digital techniques provide a deeper understanding of geometry development, tectonics and fabrication in contemporary practice.

Offered as a lecture/workshop, the course introduces students to the fundamentals of digital fabrication with a particular focus on applications in architecture, reference to product design and related industries. Of particular interest in the course will be the role of material performance in relation to digitally driven design and fabrication methods. Topics include the development of parametric geometry for fabrication, CNC machine environments, tool path development, single and multiple-step formation processes, robotic fabrication and assembly, tool development, composite layup, and finishing and assembly. Automation approaches to design and manufacturing will be introduced, juxtaposing industrial and shop-based concepts.

Technologies are introduced through a combination of cumulative weekly lectures, labs and hands-on workshops building from abstract exercises to material-specific fabrication processes. Field trips to regional manufacturers provide a real-world exposure to the diverse implementation of CAD/CAM technologies within a singular professional context. Individual and group assignments will include digital and physical prototypes, for which students will make extensive use of the GSD’s Fabrication Lab.