Yesterday our PhD Candidate Tim Michiels was awarded the Hangai prize for his “Outstanding paper by a young talented researcher under 30” at the annual symposium of the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) in Hamburg. Tim presented his research titled “Parametric study of masonry shells form found for seismic loading” during the plenary session on Tuesday. Tim’s award marks the 3rd consecutive prize for the Form Finding Lab at the yearly IASS conference, after Edward Segal et al.’s Tsuboi prize in Amsterdam (2015) and the stadium competition won by Olek Niewiarowski in Tokyo (2016) last year.
Prof. Jorquera-Lucerga, Tim Michiels and Prof. Adriaenssens
Tim Michiels was awarded the 15th Hangai Prize at the IASS symposium.
Tim’s research was co-authored by Prof. Adriaenssens and Prof. Jorquera-Lucerga of the Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena. It presents a form finding approach that allows for the shape generation of masonry shells in seismic areas. There is a renewed interest in constructing these masonry shells because of their low carbon impact, spurring the need to understand how such shells should be designed in seismic areas. Earthquakes are expected to have an important impact on the behavior and thus the shape of these medium-sized shell structures, as their large horizontal forces induce large bending moments that cannot be accommodated in thin, zero-tensile strength shells. Nevertheless, currently available form finding techniques for shells, rely solely on gravity loads for the generation of their shape and do not account for seismic loading.
Therefore, the masonry shells are form-found for both vertical gravity and horizontal seismic loading so that a compression-only load path exists within the thickness of the shell. Through the application of an inverted hanging net model subjected to lateral loading in a dynamic relaxation solver, shell forms are generated for which it can be ensured that such a load path exists. It is suggested to implement the obtained forms as interconnected double-layer thin shells, so that an equilibrium thrust surface can form over a wide depth of the structure, while maintaining the construction advantages of thin-tile vaults.
The shapes discussed in this paper are the first instances of compression-only shells reported in literature, whose forms are successful and efficient in withstanding combined gravity/seismic loading. The research demonstrates how to tailor masonry shells for a resilient built environment and can be extended to the shape generation of shells constructed out of other compression-only materials such as unreinforced concrete, stone and earth. The full paper will be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of the IASS.
Janet Echelman is an American artist whose urban installations playfully respond to wind and light. In her work Echelman exploits the inherent beauty of common materials such as fishnets and atomized water particles in a design approach that elegantly combines ancient arts and craft with 21st century digital and numerical techniques. To speak to her genius, she has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Harvard University Loeb Fellowship, a Fulbright Lectureship, and the Aspen Institute Crown Fellowship. She was ranked number one on Oprah Magazine’s List of 50 Things that Make You Say Wow! We are so honored that Janet was so generous with her time and gave us this inspiring interview.
Sigrid Adriaenssens: How do you describe the aesthetics of the soft surfaces you design and build, and why do they have such an impact on the public?
Janet Echelman: My work exists at the intersection of art, architecture, computer and material science, and public space. I often experience cities as hard-edged and rigid – mostly concrete, steel and glass laid out in straight lines. I’m drawn to humanize the city to the curves and softness of the human body, bringing the scale of skyscrapers down to the size of hand-knotted mesh, because those spaces make me feel at ease. The softness of my art becomes a counterpoint to the city, as I install billowing, hand-knotted net sculptures to bridge the gap between an industrial skyscraper and my body. I observe that these crafted, textural connections often engender a sense of social interconnectedness as well.
I think art in the public sphere is vitally important. I want my work to be as accessible and free as breathing air. I see art, architecture and landscape as interwoven elements that we can design in a way that improves our cities. They can be fused together to create a unified experience much greater than each entity can do alone.
I leave my work open to interpretation, for each person to complete. My hope is that each person becomes aware of their own sensory experience in that moment of discovery, and that may lead to the creation of your own meaning or narrative
How do you generate form?
My forms come from my search for inspiration from life. I guess this is my way of making sense of the world, and finding my tiny little moment within the larger unfolding story of humanity on our planet. For my traveling Tsunami Series artworks (1.26 and 1.8), the concept stems from scientific data sets of the earthquakes and tsunamis in Chile (2010) and Japan (2011) respectively, and the observation that our actions are interwoven into the complex network of the earth’s natural systems.
My studio generated the 3D form for the sculptures using NASA and NOAA data that measured the effects of the earthquake including tsunami wave heights across the oceanic expanse. The resulting vibrations momentarily sped up the earth’s rotation, shortening the length of the day by micro-seconds, which became the catalyst for the sculpture series.
I also turn to the unique site as a guiding force for each artwork. When I make the first site visit, I get feel for its space, talk to the people who use it, and spend time uncovering its history and texture to understand what it means to its people. I work with my colleagues to brainstorm, sketch, and explore all ideas, without censoring our ideas in the early stages. As the sculpture designs begin to unfold, our studio architects, designers and model-makers collaborate with an external team of aeronautical and structural engineers, computer scientists, lighting designers, landscape architects, and city planners to bring my initial sketches into reality. We fabricate our artworks through a combination of hand splicing and knotting together with industrial looms, and then install on location. It is a collaborative and iterative process that can take more than a year.
What is the relevance of traditional crafts in your work? and What is the relevance of digital techniques?
I think it’s interesting how we’re making monumental sculpture with pre-industrial and industrial methods, but we require post-industrial computer tools in order to build at the scale of the city. I see it as connecting our past, present and future.
When I began making my netted sculptures, they were fabricated completely by hand. All of my recent works are a combination of machine and hand-work. My studio uses hand-work to create unusual, irregular shapes and joints, and to make lace patterns within the sculpture. We utilize machines for making rectangular and trapezoidal panels with stronger, machine-tightened knots that can withstand intense hurricane-force winds, and the heavy weight of snow and ice storms. Industrial equipment and materials have helped me bring my work to a new scale and permanency.
My studio has been collaborating the past 6 years with the world’s leading design software company (Autodesk) to build a custom software tool that allows us to soft-body 3D modeling of our monumental designs while understanding the constraints of our craft, and showing response to the forces of gravity and wind. We couldn’t have built our monumental city-scaled sculptures without it.
How do you match the ephemeral floating nature of your nets with the permanence needed for urban interventions? What makes your collaboration with engineers successful?
I work closely with aeronautical and structural engineers and material scientists throughout the design process, and regular communication and problem-solving together makes it successful. It is a gradual, collaborative, and iterative process from every angle, and often takes more than a year to get from my initial sketch to the final artwork.
Some parts of the form are structural and carry significant wind loads, so are made of a fiber more than 15 times stronger than steel (Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene). The colored portions of the sculpture are designed to withstand UV while remaining soft and able to gently billow in the wind (Poly-tetra-fluoro-ethylene). The final materials in my sculpture are the projected colored light, which mixes with the physical color, and the context of buildings, ground, and people, who together complete the artwork in my mind.
What is your greatest achievement and why?
Shaping a life.
What question are you never asked and would like to be asked? What would be the answer?
What inspires you?
The ancient carved stone caves of Ellora in India, the immense stones of the Coliseum and imagining the gargantuan textile Velarium that used to float above it, the Ikat weavers in Indonesia, the gesture of a master calligrapher brushing ink on rice paper, watching a skyscraper’s bamboo scaffolding survive a typhoon while its concrete foundation cracks, watching the mapping of fluid dynamics from a bat’s wing in flight.
I look all around me for inspiration – at the forms of our planet in macro and micro scale, to the patterns of life within it, to the measurement of time, weather patterns, or the paths created by fluid dynamics.
You will see Janet’s nets floating in the air here and here and her inspiring Ted Talk here.
After a long sweet summer, we head back to school full of fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm. We have a great semester ahead full of exciting events, awards, interviews, research reports and structural reviews.
To lift the tip of the veil, we will bring you an inspiring interview with the internationally renowned sculptor and fiber artist Janet Echelman, life reporting of the main discussions at the 2017 Hamburg IASS Conference (International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures), reviews of the newest and most exciting structures in the low countries (including 2017 Footbridge Award Winner Parkburg), up-dates on the research at the Form Finding Lab and we will find out what alumn Yousef Anastas is upto at the London Design Festival . Stay tuned. Fall here we come!
We are visiting the American University of Cairo for an educational and research collaboration on hygroscopic surfaces. In Old Cairo, we had the surprise of running into convertible textile umbrellas in front of the Al Hussein Mosque, Cairo, Egypt designed and built by SL Rasch GmbH Special and Lightweight Structuresin 2000. These umbrellas are similar to the large retractable umbrellas in front of the Prophet´s Holy Mosque in Medina, Saudi-Arabia. I have always been a fan of the way the seam patterns in this doubly curved prestressed membrane are key to the design of the canopy and how the patterns fit into the local context.
These adaptive umbrellas shade the floors in front of the mosque when needed and create a comfortable microclimate throughout the year. Conceptually, the conic membrane form carries tensile forces through a series of horizontal rings and radial lines. For me, these umbrellas are one of the archetypal prestressed membrane forms. Therefore I would like to use them as an example to better understand the relationship between form and force in pre-stressed membranes.
The umbrellas do not have a simple cone shape. Since they have anticlastic curvature, finding the optimal form of these umbrellas is more complex. The surface shape of these conic membranes is determined by the ratio of stresses in the textile’s two perpendicular directions. When the textile is woven, the weft is the term for the thread or yarn which is drawn through the warp yarns to create the textile. Warp is the lengthwise or longitudinal thread in a roll, while weft is the transverse thread.
In the conic membrane, the warp direction is represented by radial lines while the weft direction can be represented conceptually by the horizontal rings.
In the following parametric study, the effect of changing the geometry of the umbrella is studied on the stresses in the warp and weft directions. We approximate the base as a circular base of 8.75m radius for simplification. Additionally, the opening where the mast of the umbrella is ignored.
Using the equations of equilibrium for general surfaces of revolution, the tensile forces and radii of curvature in each direction depend upon the normal pressure, p:
p= T1 / R1 + T2 / R2
Where T1 and T2 are tensile forces and R1 and R2 are radii of curvature in the warp and weft directions, respectively.
For this example we will call the warp direction D1 and the weft direction D2. In the form finding process we assume that no permanent external pressure acts upon the membrane (thus p=0). We are interested in finding the shape under a set of pre-stress forces in the warp and weft directions. Thus when the normal pressure for these umbrellas is equated to zero, the relationship between stresses in opposing directions is easy to find.
In this analysis, the ratio of these stresses will be examined. The mosque umbrellas have a height of 5.2m and an approximated radius of 8.75m at their widest horizontal ring.
T1 / R1 + T2 / R2 = 0 , where T1 = T2
T / R1 + T / 8.75 = 0 , so R1 = -8.75 m
This case uses the minimum surface area of fabric. In Case 2, the stresses in the weft direction is reduced to half of those in the warp direction.
T1 / R1 + T2 / R2 = 0 , where T1 = 2T2
T / R1 + 2T / 8.75 = 0 , so R1 = -17.5 m
This case creates a ‘flatter’ curve for the membrane which requires higher stresses in the warp direction to maintain its form. Comparing Cases 1 and 2, it can be observed that the stress and radius ratios are directly related.
When the warp stress is k times as large as the weft, the warp radius is k times larger than the weft radius (see table below). Therefore, as k increases, the material stress increases, the warp radius increases, and the curvature of the cone decreases.
Cairo is without a doubt full of architectural gems. I am very grateful that my host, Prof. Sherif Abdelmohsen (American University of Cairo), and the excellent local guide Tarek showed me some of them.
In November 2016 we traveled with our CEE418/VIS418 class, co-taught by visual artist Joe Scanlan, to Kansas City and discovered the fascinating bridge models and drawings of Siah Armajani, brought together for the first time by the curator of Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Erin Dziedic. A superb opportunity to delve into the philosophy and work of Armajani.
Siah Armajani was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1939. He was raised in a family of highly educated individuals and himself attended a Presbyterian missionary for Iranian students. After having joined the National Front (which drove out the monarchy in place at the time) for several years, Armajani finally moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to attend Macalester College, a private liberal arts college. He continued to study philosophy as he searched for a framework for his social and political ideas. Since then, Armajani has continued to produce art which reflects these ideas, with a few designs of his becoming realities in the form of public bridges.
One of the primary ideologies behind Armajani’s bridge designs comes from German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). As he expresses it, a bridge is a phenomenological gathering of “the fourfold”, a sustaining connection with object and idea, a gathering or “simple oneness” of “earth and sky, divinities and mortals”. Heidegger applied this to a table:
A table is a thing.
A table is a public structure.
A table is something in between.
A table unites the people and brings people together.
Armajani’s designs were founded on the principle that these four concepts could be applied to bridge in the same way they can be applied to a table:
A bridge is a thing.
A bridge is something in-between.
A bridge which is something in-between has a shadowy side until it becomes public.
What us before the bridge, after the bridge, above the bridge, and below the bridge
brings them together and makes them one neighborhood.
A bridge is part of the public landscape.
Many of his small-scale sculptures demonstrate these concepts. For example, his House / Bridge series achieves these four criteria, with a particular emphasis on the importance of what is before, after, above or below the bridge.
However, Armajani also created designs which explored defying these concepts. His Limit Bridge series included sculptures that were similar to his earlier bridge designs, with the glaring difference that they are not passable.
Limit Bridge III, shown above, demonstrates this inconsistency. While similar in construction and style to his earlier Bridge with Base series, a grade separation and a wall between two sections prevent passage across. This strips the bridge of its practicality; as a result, according to Heidegger’s principles, the bridge no longer unites the people or links what is before and after the bridge, disqualifying it as a true bridge.
In addition to Heidegger’s fourfold principle, Persian poetry culture has had a major influence on Armajani’s work.
A source of inspiration was the Khaju Bridge in Esfahān, Iran. Its design is laced with elements of Persian architecture, such as its arches, but it is also decorated in Persian art and text in an effort to integrate it into its environment. Armajani borrowed from this method; in a less conventional approach to American architecture, his public bridge designs had physical text from certain poems inlaid into the structure. The ultimate goal of this was to allow the bridge to be “site-specific”; that is, using excerpts that allow it to integrate into the landscape.
The ideal result is a public work that harmonizing, useful, and aesthetically balanced. An example of this is one of Armajani’s most well-known bridge, the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge. While the design is more in line with modern American bridge styles, a poem is also inlaid directly into the structure, visible to all who use it. The poem was written by American poet John Ashbery specifically for the bridge; as a result the text allows the bridge to integrate more fully into its environment, achieving Armajani’s goal. The text of the poem can be viewed here. Overall, these influences helped form Armajani’s unique architectural approach, which have created a number of bridges which integrate with their environments.
You can view the full exhibit here and watch an interview with him here.
The summer holds the promise of long summer days and warm summer nights. We can imagine nothing better than watching a movie outdoors under the stars. So there is no better time to present our 5 movies you must see as a (budding) structural designer.
Structural design and cinema seem to have little in common. Structural designers create and realise long span bridges and towers that take us over waterways or shelter us from the elements. Cinema is but an illusion, built on the phenomenon that our eyes perceive a series of still frames as a moving image. Cinema is the make belief of structures.
However in same way structures and cinema are also similar. Both rely on large teams of experts to realize a large budget project on time under the leadership of a director or the project designer. And both create three-dimensional spaces, real or as an illusion.
The movies our team at the Form Finding Lab has chosen, are a personal selection; they are movies that have stuck with us. They each feature ordinary and spectacular –real and imaginary- structures. Some are real,derelict and glorious, some rely on computer graphics, some use minimal amounts of materials but they are all awesome.
Infrastructure (John Oliver, 2015)
“Infrastructure is like Legos,” says John Oliver “Building is fun, destroying is fun, but a Lego maintenance set would be the most boring fucking toy in the world.”
John Oliver demonstrates the sorry state of America’s neglected infrastructure includes that“hold your breath” bridges, killer potholes, a severe lack of inspectors and potential floods from our half-century old dams. At the end of the movie Oliver presents a trailer for a new summer blockbuster movie about fixing cracks and less about explosions featuring our favorite actor Steve Buscemi.
Unfinished Spaces (Alysa Nahmias / Ben Murray, 2011)
After the revolution, Fidel Castro ordered the National Art Schools to be built on the site of a country club, a move to enrage wealthy capitalists. The post-embargo material shortage resulted in the curved thin shell brick shell of the School of Modern Dance, designed by Ricardo Porro. This shell reflected the sensuality Castro thought to be unique to the Cuban spirit. While four other schools were planned, the School of Modern Dance was the only one to come close to completion when Castro pulled funding from the entire project in 1965. The movie “Unfinished Spaces” draws attention the restoration movement of this shell and its fate.
The design for the Great Hall set in the films was based on the dining hall at Christ Church, Oxford and reminds me of our Princeton Graduate College Proctor dining Hall. The movie set can be visited outside of London (it’s open to the public). Computer graphics were used to create the vaulted structure we see in the movie.
El arquitecto de Nueva York (Eva Vizcarra, 2015)
This Spanish documentary reflects on the life and work of the Spanish-born architect and builder Rafael Guastavino Moreno (Valencia, 1842). Guastavino and his company designed and build Catalan (also now referred to as Guastavino) vaults for prominent buildings in New York such as the Carnegie Hall, the subway station City Hall, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine or the Queensboro bridge. Rafael Guastavino died in 1908, but his son Rafael Guastavino Expósito took over the business of his father. Guastavino Company closed its doors in 1962 as they were not able to compete with the lower-cost concrete shell structures. This documentary tells the story of Guastavino’s life, the structures he built and how the New York Times referred to him as “the architect of New York” in his obituary.
Nearly 20 years after world renowned architect Louis Kahn died from a heart attack, his son, Nathaniel Kahn, documents his findings after embarking on a journey to gain a better understanding of who his father was. Being only 11 years old and being raised mostly by his mother when his father died, Nathaniel had only a hazy idea of who his father really was. Although the movie is centered on this emotionally-driven quest, it offers insights into the works and designs of Kahn. Design aspects of his buildings are explored, along with the religious and philosophical background to the choices he made in his designs.
Yousef Anastas is an architect and structural engineer. He holds a Master’s in Architecture from l’Ecole d’architecture de la Ville et des Territories (2011), and a structural engineering Master’s degree from l’Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (2014). He is currently a PhD candidate at Geometrie Structure Architecture (GSA) research lab in Paris. In 2014, he conducted a research at the Form-Finding lab of Princeton University on biomimetic building skins. He was also awarded the 40 under 40 award for young European architects. He is currently leading AAU Anastas’ research department, SCALES – a research laboratory that is consistently enhanced by linking scales that are otherwise opposed.
Recently, Anastas completed a project in Jericho, Palestine where he focused on resistance optimization of stone vaults through advanced stereotomy.
Stone as a construction material in Palestine
Historically, stone has been the most common building material in Palestine. It is abundant, and its use in construction was in fact mandated by the Ottomans in order to unify the landscape. As a result, the stone is not only a marker of the transition of urban and social structures, but also shows the evolution of Jericho’s morphology. The construction techniques’ evolution thus had an effect on the entirety of the Palestinian city.
Palestine suffers of a misuse of stone as a structural material: while it was an abundant material used for structural purposes in the past, it is now used as a cladding material only and the know-how of stone building is disappearing.
The research aims at including stone stereotomy – the processes of cutting stones – construction processes in contemporary architecture. It relies on novel computational simulation and fabrication techniques in order to present a modern stone construction technique as part of a local and global architectural language.
Our research department – SCALES – and GSA (Geometrie Structure Architecture) lab are leading this research on stone construction techniques. The results of the research will be used to build the el-Atlal artists and writers residency in Jericho. As such, Stonematters is the first module of the residency and the first built vault of our research.
Stonematters is built on an innovative construction principle allowing for unprecedented forms for such structures, born from morphology – the study of the form of objects – and stereotomy. The vault itself covers a surface of 60 m2 and spans 7 meters with a constant depth of 12 cm. The geometry follows the shape of a minimal surface on which geodesic lines are drawn and set the pattern of the interlocking stones. The whole structure is made of 300 mutually supported unique stone pieces.
Aside for the technological issues which make Stonematters a unique design, cultural barriers were also encountered; the entire project was built using existing local techniques from the culturally marginal city of Jericho. Processes from several factories were combined so as to employ known methods for new uses. Hence, the research bids at linking construction techniques to urban morphology. It puts a non-hierarchical hypothetical link between the scale of stereotomy and the scale of urban fabric. In that context, the idea is to suggest new urban morphologies linked to the scientific use of a largely available material in Palestine.
Cutting the stone
The geometry of the vault follows the shape of a minimal surface on which geodesic lines are drawn and set the pattern of the interlocking stones. Each stone has 4 inclined interfaces, that allow the assembly of the different stone voussoirs. Based on geometrical parameters as the overall shape, the density of the paving, the inclination of contact surfaces, the size of the voussoirs, and number of voussoirs types, a specific structural criteria can be improved.
In order to lay out the stones, a series of polystyrene blocks of differing heights were carved to create formwork for the stones.
These blocks of polystyrene were arranged in the form the vault was to later take shape. These blocks were placed on top of wooden framework, which was later removed with the blocks once the stones had been laid and interlocked.
While the polystyrene blocks were digitally cut using robots, the wooden framework was all constructed by local artisans using traditional methods.
Mounting the stones
Stone voussoirs are assembled on the mounted polystyrene blocks. Each stone’s location is defined on the formwork. The mounting started from the upper center of the vault progressively advanced towards the edges in a concentric process. The inclined interfaces between the stone voussoirs generate the interlocking system of the structure.
The el-Atlal structure is a model of the concept, which envisions a new construction method. The model allows for new morphologies, construction techniques and uses for a widely available construction material. The project has the ambition of creating a mode of urbanism; one whose scales are profoundly associated, one whose technique and durability leaves a trace on the city’s evolution and on the Palestinian landscape.
When the relative humidity in the air increases, wood increases in volume as the water molecules become suspended between the wood cellulose fiber molecules. In wooden laminates made of different wood species, grain orientations or thicknesses, this phenomenon can cause fascinating shape shifting forms as the different wood layers start interacting.
The goal of final project of course CEE546 “Form Finding of Structural Surfaces” was to tailor the hygroscopic behavior of wood for the design and construction of a shape-shifting façade panel. Such a panel could be incorporated in an adaptive building skin.The purpose of adaptive building skins is to actively moderate the influence of weather conditions on the building’s interior environment. Current adaptive skins rely on rigid body motions, complex hinges and actuation devices. These attributes are obstacles to their broader adoption in low-carbon buildings. This project explored these challenges and solutions. The core idea of hyrgoscopic adaptive skins is that they exploit the inherent swelling and shrinking wood properties to change their shape and respond to external weather conditions of changing humidity and temperature.
A number of projects, physically and numerically developed and prototyped by teams of graduate engineers and architects in the Spring of 2017, are presented here.
Project 1: The aim of the project was to understand the behavior of a tri-layer adaptive wood facade subject to different configurations of the active and resistive layers. We performed both numerical and physical experiments to achieve the same and the results from both were compared for validation. Understanding the behavior in different configurations will help us use the optimum one for specific purposes. (Ryan Roark, Vivek Kumar, Emma Bonintende and Andrew Percival)
Project 2: The motivation of “The Wave” was to create a shape-shifting hygroscopic panel without the use of outside actuators that would be able to respond naturally to weather events, providing appropriate ventilation and lighting while presenting the ebb and flow of an ocean wave. The goal of the sliding panel was to create waving openings during sunny dry weather but to flatten closed during rainy or humid days (Peter Wang, Laura Salazar, Jedy Lau and Myles McCaulay)
Project 3: The goal of our project was to create a shape shifting façade which opens and closes as if it were a flower. Given diamond shaped flower units, the types of wood, and the thickness of both the active and passive layers, we optimized the height of the triangular petals and the grain orientations of both the active and passive layers of façade to ensure the flower petals not only meet in the center but also maintain reasonable stress levels. (Ivy Feng, Doris Avit, Andrew Rock)
Project 4: The facade system is conceived as a temperature moderating outer skin that provides shade and ventilation for a building or public space in a hot, arid climate. Utilizing the shape-shifting properties of wood veneer, the facade panels curve when exposed to moisture and relax when dried. The project reconsiders the dynamic facade as a system that functions through an inherent material intelligence rather than a mechanized assembly. The project further considers the possibility of utilizing vegetation or man-made water features in concert with with diurnal temperature changes to provide the necessary humidity to allow the facade to open and close through the course of a day and adapt seasonally to variations in weather and solar gain.(Veronica Boyce, John Cooper and Devin Dobrowolski)
Project 5: We used this project to explore the effects geometry and grain orientation had on the hygroscopic properties of wood. We tested different ratios of triangle shapes and either parallel or perpendicular grain orientation between two layers of wood and compared the stresses and deformed shapes to optimize the shape. (Annie Levine, Sean Rucewicz)
This project was made possible through the William Pierson Field Fund and the Bartlett Funding with the collaboration of Prof. Gabriele and Luigi Olivieri (Roma Tre University, Italy) and Prof. Abdelmohsen and Rana Ahmed Bahaa (American University of Cairo).
Bill Washabaugh is an artist, aerospace engineer, roboticist, designer, and maker. Bill is the founder of Hypersonic Engineering & Design, a firm in NYC working at the intersection of technology and art. He has designed flight control software for Boeing, music instruments for Bjork, and a massive stage show for U2. Trained as an Aerospace and Mechanical Engineer, he pushes the boundaries of the art of engineering through an impressive variety of projects.
Sigrid Adriaenssens: Why and how do you study processes and patterns in nature?
Nature, or natural selection, has figured out so many incredible design solutions that work so well. It’s our best resource for finding out what works well, and lasts a long time. I think we’re predisposed, by way of our co-evolution in/with the natural surroundings, to find natural forms as beautiful. The fact that we’ve been able to use science and math to put logical relationships to these beautiful forms is magic to me. The diversity of ways in which nature takes form – at the macro, micro, scientific, and mathematical– makes for a pretty endless diversity of study. How we study it is somewhat haphazard: it’s just through random inquiry, talking with colleagues, reading, and keeping our senses open to surprise and ready for inquiry.
In your design approach, you emphasize interaction, beauty and movement. Why is that important to you and to society?
Our work is really about people. That’s a critical point in our process. How does a piece make the viewer feel, how does it pull them, what might they remember, what’s the viewpoint, what’s the reference, what’s the process? We are interactive beings, so we like to keep in mind that there is always a give and take, a call and response. I think the movement of our works lends itself well to that, because it evolves over time and can offer an experience that is changing and at times, unexpected. I think it’s important to pull people in with something beautiful, and try to inspire them to wonder about what they’re seeing, and ask them to investigate that and learn something new.
What is the importance of making in your work?
All of our works are physical objects, and each one we do is a new process, so making is a huge part of what we do. Our team believes strongly in the need to escape from the screen in both the design process and final viewing experience. We do spend a lot of time designing and coding on the computer, but holding and shaping and walking around the form is super important, that’s how it will be experienced. As well, because so many of our works involve complex physical movements, we spend a lot of time putting together physical prototypes to see what works and what doesn’t, and how things actually move in real life.
How do you choose your collaborators?
We’ve got a great group of friends that we often call on. It’s a very organic process, and changes with each project. We’re also really lucky to be based out of a studio in Brooklyn that we share with a really diverse and talented set of people. We’ve got big data scientists, creative coders, costume designers, biologists, and more. It’s the diversity of expertise and input that often leads to new directions and ideas that are so much fun.
What is your greatest (professional) achievement and why?
Getting to work with an incredible team of good friends every day.
What question do you never are asked and would like to be asked? What would be the answer?
Actually, I think the previous question is probably it.