Saturday, 26 October 2013

Skeleton Crew

Meet Bones. 

Bones is a giant cardboard Lego skeleton.  He is a family project created over a few rainy weekends in preparation for Halloween.  

What is the relevance to this blog, which (tries to) focus on design, materials and innovation?  There are a number of reasons which I believe are worth noting:

Intrructables is a website which brings craft and hobby projects to a social media interface.  Many of the projects are very clever, tinkering and hacking with technology which is becoming more and more available to everyone.  Technology progressively lowers the bar for entry.  This little project is simple to construct but still uses a specialised approach to achieve its goals.  The Mega Lego Skeleton project by ZombieGorilla uses Blender to model with and UV unwrapping to transfer all the surfaces to cutting patterns.  

The original instructions include A3 sheets which produce a cardboard skeleton about 3 feet high.  We doubled the size of the templates, and the size of the skeleton.  These sheets were for the chest section.  In total there were approximately 150 steets.
It has been raining - a lot.

Blender, I believe, is a resource which needs to be recognised and used more in Architecture.  It is an open source and free to use software package which can hold up against heavy-weight modeling, rendering and animation packages such as 3D Studio.  It is incredibly versatile and does not produce a default visual graphic.  The fact that so many Architectural practices rely on SketchUp must be to the credit of Google's advertising.

Assembling the parts involved a lot of strips of masking tape.  

UV mapping:
UV unwrapping the model to create cutting patterns means that the structure can be faithfully recreated from sheets of material, at any scale.  The sections fit very accurately and neatly.

The relevance to architecture is that:
  • Complicated 3D geometries can be replicated in model form with this process and,
  • CAD and BIM models can produce cutting patterns to achieve complicated geometric building structures directly, where the finished product will be produced from sheet materials, such as zinc or other sheet metals.  Sheet metals can have braised, welded or folded at junctions, as required and arranged with specialist fabricators.
It's another example of how 3D models can be exported directly to manufacturing processes.

Leg components before painting.  Several types of cardboard was used but the best and most forgiving, I found, was the card used as packing material for boxes etc.  Its a great resource to play with and too good just to go to recycling.

Double-curved geometries:
This project demonstrates how double-curved geometries are still difficult to create in the real world.  This project uses 16 segments for each cylindrical section, which scale neatly to fit.  Double curves in this instance are created from tapering sections of cylinders.  Although CAD and modeling software likes to create complicated geometries, this project exposes the illusion that they are just planes and lines with filters and modifiers applied.

Achieving double curved geometries with building materials is a subject which I will post on shortly.

The main head section achieves a 'double curve geometry' with tapering sections, accurately set out by the UV unwrapping process. 

Chest and spine sections added.

Gerry Anderson famously said that he created puppets for his iconic production Thunderbirds, because he couldn't afford actors at the time.  You might say we've taken the same approach with staff for DesignBox.  We'll put Bones on answering phones and chasing invoices and see how we get on.  

Happy Halloween 13! :)

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Adding value to BIM

BIM (building information modelling) is taking over the way we work as architects.  It is an inevitable progression in the working methods of architects, engineers, designers, and the building industry, especially now the RIBA has revised its Job Book, and most government projects will require it.  The advantages of BIM are well documented and regularly appear in the architectural press, but as with any innovation, there are potential disadvantages.  It is worth taking a quick look at some of these short-falls and give a thought to how they might be turned in our favour.

Andrew Barraclough discusses the advantages of BIM in the RIBA-J October 2013

When BIM is discussed in relation to the improvements in service and product for the Client, I get the impression that these advantages equate more to the values of a QA system rather than an architect's instinctive interpretation of good practice, which is to achieve the best design possible.  A QA system focuses on the efficient and proficient running of the project backed by the focused, forward thinking management of the practice which oversees it.  By contrast, architects often consider their primary goal as achieving the most exquisite piece of design, using any process necessary to reach this target.  (Some of the most fantastic buildings have emerged out of apparent chaos).  To me this begs a number of questions:

On design, is BIM too structured and regimented?  Does it allow enough freedom for designers to experiment with creativity?  Is there a risk that the building products of the BIM process will be safe, predictable designs with safe, predictable detailing?  If this is a possibility, could BIM slow down the the development of architectural ingenuity?  Especially when considering the advantages BIM brings to programme, will designers have the chance to take stock and think about what they are producing as much as before.  On a some projects I've seen carried out in BIM, teams of architects have been working to very quick work-stage deadlines, producing information to very exact deliverable requirements, not to mention wrestling with the learning curves of the BIM management system.  Although design is a priority (and a passion) for architects, in these cases the BIM process did not appear to hold it with the same level of importance.

Time is an important resource for good design.  The Renaissance Architect, Filatete wrote about the importance of the gestation period to achieve successful design.  In the twenty-first century we have learnt to work speedily, with less time but with more resources, including paper for drawings (which was a luxury in the Renaissance), models, material samples, mockups, visualisations, as well as CAD models, but surely to reach the optimum design solution, the necessary dialogues need to be held with the Client, which often requires time.

Models thrown out by Lasdun during design for the National Theatre, London.
Looking at this you get the impression that the creative design process dictated programme, not visa-versa.

Would it therefore be advantageous for everyone involved with BIM projects if we drew on some other innovations entering the architectural profession and building industry, to help maximise the potential of BIM innovations, and minimise the draw-backs?

Combining the BIM model with the ability to 3D print is an obvious link.  Streamlined information from the BIM model can be quickly transformed in to working models for design or Client reviews, and help to maintain a swift programme.  The technology is evolving quickly and prices for the machinery falling and becoming more available.

One of the 3D printers used at UCL's Institute of Making

On working relationships between consultants, there has been some discussion about where the lines of responsibility lie, if everyone is working on the same model.  The ideal situation would result in a working method which promotes greater integration (not just coordination).  With Revit being the prime BIM software package, it should be possible to use other Autodesk software, such as Inventor,  to run analysis on the BIM model to optimise its design performance.  The advantage would be that instead of architects and engineers working on their own areas of work and coordinating to eliminate clashes, the architecturally led areas could contribute to structural performance.  Structural elements could contribute to the operation of the services etc.  Traditionally, structural engineers don't consider the added effects of bracing and stiffness which might be offered from architectural items like wall panels for example, but with this approach, buildings might become leaner in their use of materials, potentially saving costs and material resources.

On working relationships with the building industry, it would be very advantageous to bring in specialist suppliers in to the design process and BIM process as early as possible.  The benefit to the design team would be the added assurance that the proposals will work, will fit, are buildable and can be qualified with the backing of the actual organisations which will produce them.  With BIM being such a prescriptive system, it might prove difficult to introduce new materials and details in to the process any other way.  For example, it is easy to specify a wall as timber stud and plasterboard, but what if the design architect wanted it to be dichroic acrylic panels bonded on to a clear acrylic frame?  As if you ever would, but one-off specialist fabrications like this, or exploring lots of "off the wall" design options might add headaches to the design team's tight schedule.  Introducing specialist suppliers in to the process at moments like these could help relieve this pressure and add to the integrity of the BIM model.  Also, as noted in the previous post, specialist components can add further to the integration of the design process especially where they can perform multiple roles, such as primary structure, enclosure, and carry services all in one.

The Insulshell panel system used at the Rogers (RSH+P) Homeshell project demonstrates that primary steelwork can be eliminated from design if timber wall, floor and roof panels are designed to take all the structural loads and bracing.  This is an economy on the performance of the building with potential cost advantages, but it requires a closer integrated working relationship between architects, engineers and specialist manufacturers. 

BIM might appear a daunting system to become involved in, but when the learning curve is over, combining it with other innovations going on in the building industry and world of design, could potentially push innovation in design further than ever before.  Lets use it to our best advantage.