While architects once straddled a chasm between creative thinking and technical knowhow, that gap has closed in recent years. Technical tools continue to blow away the restrictions that have hindered architecture in the past.
This was one takeaway at a presentation given during Design in the Age of Experience 2017.
John Cerone, director of Virtual Design and Construction, for SHoP Architects, explained that architects are increasingly looking to step outside of their traditional roles.
“The AEC industry is restricted by a lot of traditional methods. We’ve realized that to create the design you want, you have to step out and speak with the people manufacturing the pieces and parts,” Cerone commented.
Additive Manufacturing Creates New Opportunities
One of the technologies delivering new freedom to design professionals is additive manufacturing.
David Wong, head of Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center, Nanyang Polytechnic University in Singapore, shared the stage with Cerone to explain how the growth of this new manufacturing process isn’t just transforming the possibilities available through architecture—it’s also pushing the design process further as design and manufacturing professionals together explore the need for new processes.
“I think you can see today there is a convergence in additive manufacturing and the design perspective,” Wong said. “You can see the convergence not only on the different technologies but also the processes itself.”
The convergence Wong sees is leading to new possibilities in generative design, and a fast-track approach to breaking down boundaries in manufacturing.
“Today it is possible to manufacture things you had never dreamed of before,” Wong said. “Cost was always one of the drivers, and product complexity drives cost. But today this barrier is ripped off.”
To demonstrate how designers are pushing boundaries with technology, Cerone discussed his work on an entirely 3D printed pavilion installed in Miami for a design fair.
“It’s small scale compared to some of the environments we work in, but we wanted to make it all about ambition and ‘firsts’,” Cerone said.
SHoP worked with Branch Technology, a printer working to make material printing viable for construction, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to provide a second printing technology using biodegradable bamboo medium.
The entire project was done 100% digitally in CATIA, Cerone said.
Moreover, the structure was assembled on-site only 3 days before the fair, with every piece forming a perfect fit. “This is where we’re heading,” Cerone said of these processes.
A “Destructive” Evolution
Wong called this new approach the start of an era of “destructive evolution,” adding that “additive manufacturing is a destructive technology, as it essentially destructs many of the things we are doing right now. It changes the game of manufacturing.”
And this, in turn, is changing architecture.
“Generative design is becoming more viable today,” Wong said, “because it helps designers to concentrate on design intent. We’re not concerned about manufacturing the parts.”
Software such as the 3DEXPERIENCE platform allows architects to focus on pure design. No longer is there a process where creative ideas are jotted down on paper, then passed to specialists to determine how best to make those “grand gestures” work in application.
Instead, today’s technology adds information into the earliest levels of design, providing a holistic project view, a cross-section of a project and details as it evolves. All of that information can be delivered directly to CNC machines—or additive manufacturing equipment—and leading to a much more efficient workflow.
“The technology platforms available to us really are breaking down that false dichotomy between creative and mechanical thinking. This is a synthesis where it happens simultaneously,” Cerone says.
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