Design for Digital Fabrication: Part 1

Start Small – Modeling Matters

As designers of buildings, we have to fluidly change resolution in order to develop at scales, which capture our designs at their macro, off-site approach, then their more relatable, pedestrian scale and then all the way down to their micro scale: the nuts and bolts that keep our buildings watertight. An inability to change scale can be the death of a designer.

In much the same way, we need to shift thought and scale when approaching digital fabrication.

As part of my Innovation Sabbatical, I visited Morphosis in Culver City, CA, a leading architecture firm in innovative design. My conversations with Zander Tamm-Seitz, Morphosis project architect, focused to how they use small-scale digital fabrication on a daily basis to realize spacial relationships, design component interaction, and the overall feel of the building as it progresses through the design process. During the day, their designers work in Rhino, Microstation, and a host of other software packages to develop computer models. As the design staff leave for the day, the models are sent to a powder printer to be output overnight. When the designers return, the model is ready to be viewed, analyzed, and critiqued. The repetition of this process helps build a connection between designer and fabricated part, strengthening the designer’s understanding of the CAD + CAM connection.

As projects progress, the supporting shop space at Morphosis can scale the resolution of the models to the size of full building components. My basketball coach used to say, “you will play like you practice,” so if we extend this to architecture, we know that practicing fabrication at small scale will result in meaningful insight when it’s time to send the building out for construction.

Scale models, whether course or fine detail, provide confirmation that ideas either work or fail. When the idea fails, the model can be iterated and modified until a viable solution is found. Within the confines of digital fabrication, models can lead to process insights that inform the final fabricated building parts.

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