blink!LAB architecture
in the !LAB4
November, 2016


We have to inspire our girls from a very young age. We have to recalibrate our adult workforce.  We have to reduce construction time and errors.  What if we worked differently? With no traditional tools and no prior skills?


For the Girls' Festival 2016 we proposed an elegant design utilizing off-the-shelf materials and an installation sequence that required minimal talent.  Simultaneous to encouraging girls to build, is a larger question affecting the AEC industry as a whole - what are the organizational and labor skills required for newly emerging types of construction Our test case, a paper canopy addressed these questions at a budget of less than $500.​

Codified by the repetition of very simple rectangular and triangular shapes, the structure is built by hand.  Aesthetic considerations (this is design after all) included:
  • The final product should maintain a sense of elegance despite being made by young fingers. 
  • Complexity and connection details should not detract from the end result.  This was important because we wanted to show that “hand-made” does not have to mean “under-considered”.  Eight half-inch plastic pipes skinned with paper tiles, it was critical that where ends occurred, that these connections would be resolved. 
  • The piece should be experienced as continuous reading.  Where the eye did not rest on one particular area - that there was an element of continuous flow and continuous variation.

Geometry Portal is an exploration in material performance.  The paper tent encompasses a 15’x15’x8’ volume and weighed less than 10 pounds. By integrating tabs and folds, the card-stock paper achieved greater structural rigidity, as well as, generated the desired visual and structural performance over a long span.  
Cut from recycled paper sheets, tiles were further bent and folded to create a contiguous thin-shell skin.  These paper tiles were strategically perforated.  Structurally this allows the skin to have the greatest amount of material towards the base/ground for strength and stiffness and the least at the top which allows curvature and flexibility. Each of the
190 unique tiles were based on an algorithm and laser-cut on a Trotec Speedy300 laser cutter.
The supporting frame was a system of simple plastic pipe lengths, corners and connectors.  The location of intermediate pipes and connections were parametrically determined to control and maintain the desired curvature and tension.
Real-world construction typically require prior knowledge and skills.  However by pre-numbering each tile and approaching assembly as an IKEA kit of parts, children were able to sequentially connect and assemble each piece in its required location.  To further assist our participants, a large color-coded graphic layout was provided.


Design of Geometry Portal occurred while in the midst of other digital fabrication projects.  Traditional design methods require pages of drawings handed over to shop fabricators for bid, followed by shop drawing review and approval and finally construction where yet still designers field questions though-out.  All of this increases the cost of a project and increases the chance of error.  The flexibility to respond quickly on short notice truly reflects the positive benefits of Digital Craft to provide an economical and attractive bespoke solution.

These events and other self-directed projects allow exploration at a low cost but yield high returns on increased in-house expertise.  blink!LAB’s commitment to digital-craft is a direct lineage from past projects, such as the NASA Ames N232 and GE projects where BIM/digital design files were sent directly to the contractor/fabricator. During the GE project, DIRTT walls required only one intermediate step (shop drawing review) between design and installation.  Geometry Portal required no intermediate steps. Both the laser cut tiles and pipe forms were numerically-controlled during the design process, thereby increasing precision levels that are typically uncertain during traditionally built projects.

This small paper pavilion, built by children, proves it is possible to create challenging forms using un-skilled labor. Greater complexity does not mean high costs.   Working with parametric models, we are able to optimize fabrication solutions and rationalize installation.

Digital design and fabrication can be easily up-scaled from a canopy to interior partition; and even further towards fabricated building façade components or larger self-supporting structures. 
Digital design and fabrication eliminates several intermediate construction stages. Continued focus on digital fabrication will advance not just the design profession but also the construction industry.
Greater control reduces construction errors as material, fabrication and installation constraints are enfolded into the design as it is being developed. Consequently, the final construction process and constructed object will be improved in the long term.  
A big thank you to the World Wide Women organization for inviting blink!LAB to this amazing event - The Girls' Festival.  And even bigger appreciation of the fem-gineers from ThortonTomasetti who braved the weather to make this an incredible day.  We will be back for Girls' 2017. 
Other Digital Craft projects in !PRODUCTION 

Geometry Portal is a small part of a larger exploration to place digital craft methodologies directly into the public realm.  The simple paper tent demonstrated that as Architects, we are capable of controlling a complex design, define assembly systems and maintain low costs.  CNC Machines and 3D printers; as well as, laser, plasma and water-jet cutters are allowing designers to explore more freely.  Because some of these machines are now in-house and at our fingertips, we are inventing new forms and spaces. As the complexity increases, the work and team becomes even more thoughtful, confident and willing to take on greater challenges.
Proposals by University of San Francisco - Architecture Design Studio 5.  3.3 acres in the heart of downtown, students approach the site as the confluence of existing nodes, connectors and networks which development could address.
blink!LAB architecture is a SBEMBE, and WBE.

June A. Grant, Principal
Copyright © 2016 BLINK-LAB architecture, All rights reserved.

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