Digital Fabrication Roundtable

Wednesday, October 20, 2021, 6:30 - 8:30pm

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This presentation will be conducted in-person and through Zoom. Please register in advance here.

With a history of “thinking through making” at The Cooper Union, the role of the workshop has been central to the culture of the institution. Fabrication is not so much the consequence of design, it embodies and defines the design process itself. The fourth floor of the Foundation Building is housed with tools whose techniques involve means and methods that define the way we make, and how we rethink building protocols. Matter performs both technically, visually, and semantically.

With the expansion of the workshop during the era of COVID, the emergence of the AACE lab has only expanded our definition of what it means to make in a world mediated by new technologies whose history is invariably young, relatively untested, and open to interpretation. The equipment is there to be used with both fidelity and ample suspicion; the ideological shadows that precede each machine are there to be engaged, but only if they are interrogated with productive mistrust.

To help us gauge what it means to use a laboratory, we have invited Mania Meibodi Aghaei and Wes McGee, whose work in design and research has evolved over the last decade in the arena of computation, digital fabrication, and new media. If classical composition biases visual logics, then this work also invokes computational protocols, whose code invokes bytes of information, whose formal consequences only become visible to the eye in the second instance. Their process of work, research, and design inquiry is a blend of operations that allow for lateral connections between processes that require different critical faculties to expand questions of discipline: here a speculative tectonic is proposed to expand approaches to the environment and climate change as part of its ethic. In turn, it gives us a lens to consider other perspectives towards questions of labor, material sourcing, equity, and other emergent cultural questions to which architecture may respond.
To help contextualize their thinking, we have invited Fabio Gramazio and Brandon Clifford to expand the conversation. More than anything, this is also an opportunity to celebrate the AACE lab, to imagine what may be possible within it, and to challenge it through a conversation with the work of Plastic Architecture as its backdrop.

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.

Brandon Clifford is a time-traveler who develops creative approaches to the world’s most pressing problems. He identifies contemporary blind-spots by mining ancient knowledge that holds resonance with topics of today. Brandon is the director and co-founder of Matter Design. He is also an associate professor and director of the M.Arch program at MIT. Brandon received his Master of Architecture from Princeton University and his Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Georgia Tech. Brandon is a designer and researcher who has received recognition with prizes such as the American Academy in Rome Prize, a TED Fellowship, the SOM Prize, the Design Biennial Boston Award, and the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects & Designers. His most recent authored work, The Cannibal’s Cookbook, demonstrates his dedication to bringing ancient knowledge into contemporary practice with theatrical captivation. His work at Matter Design is focused on re-directing architectural research through spectacle and mysticism. Clifford’s speculative built works continue to disrupt common practices and challenge default solutions.

Fabio Gramazio is an architect with multidisciplinary interests ranging from computational design and robotic fabrication to material innovation. In 2000, he co-founded the architecture practice Gramazio Kohler Architects, where numerous award-winning designs have been realized. Having opened the world’s first architectural robotic laboratory at ETH Zurich, Gramazio Kohler’s research has been formative in the field of digital architecture, setting precedence and de facto creating a new research field merging advanced architectural design and additive fabrication processes through the customized use of industrial robots. The research is outlined and theoretically framed in the book The Robotic Touch: How Robots Change Architecture (Park Books, 2014).

The in-person lecture is open to Cooper Union students, faculty, and staff in the Third Floor Lobby of the Foundation Building. This event is free and accessible to the public through Zoom.  

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

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.