Plastic Architecture

Fri, Oct 15, 2021 12pm - Sun, Nov 21, 2021 6pm

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Plasticity: the quality of being easily shaped or molded.
Plastic: a synthetic material made from organic polymers.

Plastics have had a long history in the design and construction industry, from their use in early experiments using fiber-reinforced polymers to low-cost housing construction in the 1960s to their applications for a plethora of interior surfaces lining modern office spaces today. As a category of materials, plastics are often considered cheap, lightweight, disposable, and increasingly, unsustainable. Cheap and lightweight, however, are positive characteristics for a building envelope, particularly if other parameters like structural performance can be guaranteed. Advances in recycling and material science hold promise for future plastics made from renewable sources and reused numerous times during their lifecycle.

Plastic Architecture explores the potential for large-scale additive manufacturing (AM) technologies to disrupt the high-performance building façade industry. Through functional integration and optimization, future façade systems will possess improved thermal and structural performance while being lighter and faster to produce and install.

Following similar advances in other industries, AM technologies expand the range of geometric and topological possibilities for façade construction, allowing the introduction of seamless internal cavities and passages. AM processes have the potential to transform plastics from a low-cost commodity to a high-performance building material through their capacity to precisely tailor form. These features can be designed computationally to optimize insulation value, airflow, and light transmission. Further, through the use of transparent polymers, such as PETG—the material used in this exhibition—the entire structure of the façade panel can be made translucent. Thermoplastics, as a subset of polymers, can be transformed from a solid to a viscous liquid when heated, allowing a robotically controlled extruder to convert pelletized plastic into geometrically complex, layer-based components. Through computational design techniques these components can be optimized for multiple design inputs, including structure and light transmission/shading, as well as passive design strategies like natural ventilation.

3D printing plastic formwork can transform concrete construction and enable the production of individual freeform concrete structures quickly and cost-effectively, minimizing construction waste and labor. The degree of geometric complexity a concrete element can assume is directly linked to our ability to fabricate its formwork. Additive Manufacturing can facilitate complex freeform geometries and expanded design solutions for concrete elements. In particular, fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printing of thermoplastic, which is used to produce the formwork of the columns, is a particularly useful method of fabrication due to the lightweight properties of the resulting formwork and the accessibility of FFF 3D printing technology. The design and fabrication of three concrete columns investigates PLA, PVA, PETG, and the combination of PLA-PVA as a formwork material.

Through an entirely digitized design-to-production workflow for concrete formwork, 3D printing allows the integration of all functions that are needed in a concrete element. The columns showcase the additive manufacturing, enabling the prefabrication of large-scale, lightweight, and ready-to-cast freeform formwork to minimize material waste, labor, and errors in the construction process, while increasing the speed of production and economic viability of casting non-standard concrete elements.

Located in the Foundation Building's Third Floor Hallway Gallery.

Mania Aghaei Meibodi is an architect specializing in computational design and robotic fabrication to material innovations. She develops seamless combinations of digital technologies and physical building processes that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to the building industry. With additive manufacturing (AM) at the core of this process, her research introduces new design methods and construction techniques that together enable geometrically complex adaptations in architecture. She is currently an assistant professor of architecture and director of the Digital Architecture and Research Technologies (DART) Lab at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Wes McGee explores the integration of advanced manufacturing technologies with design-driven workflows. He is known for innovating in the space of design and fabrication across a range of material processes, particularly in the application of industrial robotic tools to architectural production. Wes is co-founder and partner of Matter Design. He is currently an associate professor and the director of the Fabrication and Robotics Lab at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Industrial Design, both from Georgia Tech. He has taught workshops and master classes across the US, Europe, the Middle East and in Australia. McGee has been recognized with awards such as the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects & Designers, the Design Biennial Boston Award, and the ACADIA Award for Innovative Research, as well as multiple ARCHITECT Magazine R+D awards. His work has been published widely in books, periodicals, conferences, and peer-reviewed journals and he has collaborated with an extensive range of architects, engineers, and artists. McGee’s research revolves around interrogating the means and methods of material production in architecture, focusing on developing new connections between design, engineering, materials, and manufacturing processes as they relate to the built environment.

Mania Aghaei Meibodi and Wes McGee will speak in-person at the Digital Fabrication Roundtable on Wednesday October 20th, 2021. 

Located at 7 East 7th Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues

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