Caliper Studio in Forward (Published by the AIA)

As architects continue to experiment with computational design tools and simultaneously become more familiar with the technical limitations of specifi c fabrication methods, the pace of changes in the field is impressive. These new tools foster the ability to manage greater levels of complexity in form, pattern, and part making. In addition, designers can now better explore multiple options, evaluating aesthetic and performance based criteria earlier in the design process while signifi cant layout decisions are still being made. On a detail level, new technology allows for a level of craft characterized by an intricacy in joinery and part articulation that overcomes the limitations set by the high costs of skilled labor, resulting in new developments in the language of detail as ornament.

The following projects are each discrete components of larger buildings: a façade, a wall sculpture, and a stair. Like many projects by Caliper Studio, they illustrate an interest in exploring a set of fabrication techniques for functional and expressive potential.

Reflective Tiled Sculpture

With a controlled set of design criteria each project allowed for a rigorous focus on the development of an interconnected system of parts that relate to each other and the whole through a strict set of rules. As a result of these relationships, a pliant overall geometry was developed that dynamically responded to the goals of the project. Because we conceive of our projects as a system of similar parts, we analyze both micro and macro scales at the same time. We balance the overall programmatic and aesthetic goals of the project simultaneously with the development of the components and joining methods. Each of these projects utilized scripting tools for 3D modeling software to establish parametric relationships and enable the ability to loop through and evaluate multiple solutions, confi gurations, and patterns. In more complex applications the use of search algorithms and performance analysis were employed to achieve even greater control and precision in the design process.

Cassandra Cinema and Apartments

For the public face of a new independent cinema in Brooklyn we developed a custom zinc panel and glass lens façade that wraps three new stories added to a former industrial building. The façade design was driven by the programmatic need to visually identify the building as a cultural institution coupled with the practical consideration that the building also houses 9 residential apartments. Rather than adding a traditional marquee, the solution was to develop a patterned feature on the façade itself using cast glass lenses and low voltage LED lights. The rain screen panel system allowed the LED lights and wiring to run outside the membrane weather seal, yet behind the metal skin ensuring that no light from the façade was visible from inside the apartments. The pattern of circular lenses on the façade had its origin in the dot templates used by Roy Lichtenstein (the clients had a close relationship with the artist and were immediately attracted to the idea of using dots as the organizational design element.) The objective of the design was to present an irregular pattern with an underlying visual logic. This led to a process of working with an undulating surface, cutting contour lines, projecting those lines to the façade surface and laying out circles along the lines. Using Rhinoscript we designed a series of automated operations to help us loop through multiple alternatives, each one testing for certain characteristics including: a greater density over the theater entrance, a natural tendency to fl ow around the windows, and a rationalization of the wire lengths required for each panel. The panel layout was also designed using a custom script with parametric relationships that allowed us to proceed with fabrication drawing prior to having final field dimensions. Our office generated detail drawings for each panel, which were laser cut and bent by an outside vendor and sent back to our shop for fi nal assembly and installation.

Reflective TiledSculpture

This project originated as a sculpture commission for an unused brick niche in the rear yard of a SoHo loft. The wall, a remnant from the building’s previous industrial use, was a suitable location for an outdoor sculpture that satisfi ed the client’s desire for a distinctive art piece that incorporated water and light. The conceptual core of the project was to capture the expressive power of water’s rippling surface in folded metal. Using this as inspiration, we began to explore the disturbances created by manipulating the corner points of a standard panel grid in both plan and section. To define the system we developed a set of rules based on fabrication constraints that resulted in a limited number of irregular shaped brake-formed panels. We developed a search algorithm that packs these panels into a predetermined grid spacing – 6 x 6 in this instance – within the boundary of the niche opening. The subtle torque created by the varying corner heights presented a number of challenges both computationally and materially. Mockups were necessary to evaluate panel thickness and a CNC laser cut backer panel was designed to provide anchoring, hidden panel connections and resist the resultant “spring” of the torqued panels. Mirrored stainless steel, chosen for its natural resistance to the elements, created a strong contrast to the weathered brick wall. The rule based system led to unexpected patterns and symmetries which amplifi ed the dynamic visual properties of the mirrored torqued surface, creating an unmistakable allusion to water.

Genetic Stair

The Genetic Stair became the impetus for testing the use of a genetic algorithm during the design phase to evaluate and improve the structural performance of a Manhattan apartment’s feature stair. Conceived as a freestanding truss with four straight runs and three landings, the stair winds 270 degrees supported only at its top and bottom. The material palette includes a stainless steel frame with translucent Corian treads and a glass guardrail. The system of fabrication chosen for the project involved laser cutting holes in the tube truss chords and plug welding the truss rods into the laser cut holes thus providing a perfectly clean joint. The precise hole layouts in the laser cut tube served as self jigging elements, enabling triangulated rods to line up with the appropriate holes only when the tubes were correctly positioned.

While the structural performance of the stair was a primary requirement, the placement of the rods within the supporting truss became an opportunity to express more directly the multiple force directions passing through the stair. As a result, the rod layout became the focus of the genetic algorithm. The GA set up a loop which generated rod configurations, exported them to a finite element analysis tool for frequency and defl ection testing, compared the results to other configurations, then combined better performers and added a randomness factor before starting the loop again. The result was a random appearing configuration of rods which satisfi ed the structural requirements of the design by selecting rod locations in direct correlation with the force patterns. In practice, the learning curve in establishing such a tool in-house was substantial but proved to be invaluable in demonstrating the potential of iterative performance based testing during the design process

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