Material Re-formation : Force Feedback
Serial Departure represents a starting point, with respect to research, towards a responsive and possibly reactive architecture. The project began with an interest in a technique of steam-bending wood, a process that would hardly be considered high-tech as it was developed in the mid 19th century. This interest led to the methodical research of historical precedence including kayak construction, shape memory alloys, and Thonet/Eames furniture. This research offered the realization that a material considered in many ways simple and base, such as inexpensive pine furring strips, could easily be infused with sophistication and a specificity normally reserved for high-end materials. Building materials are either grown or formed into a final state of being. What comes next in the construction process is normally seen as stacking and assembly. Brick masonry, light wood framing, heavy steel construction all operate on the principle that the material is what it is, with the variable being how it is assembled. Poured concrete has historically come the closest to a fundamental shift in the way that we build. Concrete experiences a phase change as it develops from a liquid state to one that is solid. But with even that, the final product is reliant on an archaic system of sculptural formwork. How will we design as materials themselves, offer a variability as to their final function and form? Stacking and assembly have always served as the variable within architectural construction. This form, that form, it’s merely a difference in stacking and connections of the material. As the basic material itself now offers a fluidity in it’s final form, and better yet, a variability from one day to another, we can imagine architecture, even in its historical massive and solid form, eventually owning the capacity to react to and for it’s user, ultimately acting as a catalyst for life’s experiences.
Wood has the capacity, when heated with steam, to alter itself closely at the molecular level. As it is heated, the binding resins between the fibers of the wood, which are parallel in placement, begin to soften. Because this operates on such a small scale in relation to the component of wood that we understand to be a plank, a dowel, a piece of lumber, it would seem that the material itself morphs into an altered state.’
By projecting digital information onto the fabrication bed, a system emerges in which curves developed through design in 3D modeling applications could be precisely replicated with a piece of wood. A variable jig composed of a pegboard and adjustable cams allows for the production of an almost unlimited number of unique curvatures, moving beyond the limitations of one mold equals one form. More interesting is that this same process allows for material feedback into the digital model. If at any point, the curvature exceeds the bending capacity of the wood, the computer model is adjusted to match the maximum profile the wood is able to bear. In this way, a feedback loop is created as information flows from the digital, to the real, and back into the digital.
It’s really important to understand that bending a piece of wood is fundamentally different than cutting and gluing/nailing several pieces, even if the final shape and form are the same. Wood has the capacity, when heated with steam, to alter itself closely at the molecular level. As it is heated, the binding resins between the fibers of the wood, which are parallel in placement, begin to soften. As this operates on such a small scale in relation to the component of wood that we understand to be a plank, a dowel, a piece of lumber, it would seem that the material itself morphs into an altered state. Using this potential transformation as the variable for building, rather than stacking or assembly, becomes immediately interesting.
Text by Joshua G. Stein
Woodbury University Interior Architecture