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Thursday31 July 2014

SmartGeometry workshop helps architects generate solid design ideas

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The 2012 workshop suggests clay and computers could be the future

Originally founded to explore architectural geometry via computation, the SmartGeometry group has expanded its horizons to encompass wider explorations of computing and its possibilities in architecture. Its annual workshop and conference are intense, almost round-the-clock, events that oscillate across the Atlantic.

This year’s venue was Grimshaw’s Experimental Media & Performing Arts Centre (Empac) building at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. The host institution always contributes a considerable amount of time and resources, and this year the SmartGeometry group had access to chemistry labs, wind tunnels and other equipment.

SmartGeometry launched this year’s challenge in May 2011. Ten Cluster proposals were selected from 40 applications by academic peer review. The invitation to participate in the Workshop drew in global applicants, 100 of whom were selected to join their preferred Clusters. After extensive pre-planning and ordering of materials, they worked in these groups for four days, and most of the four nights.

Ceramics 2.0’s industrial robot uses taut wire to cut clay.

Source: Marc Thomas

Ceramics 2.0’s industrial robot uses taut wire to cut clay.

The Bioresponsive Building Envelopes Cluster took over one of Empac’s studios, filling a wall with projected simulations of interactive fritting. Driven by OpenFrameworks software, Kinect sensors captured the movements of people next to the simulated facade fritted with 100mm pixels. This can be programmed to respond in various ways and is about to move into development.

In the studio next door Reactive Acoustic Environments constructed a transformable acoustic canopy that changed shape in response to a variety of inputs. These included manual control via an iPad app, response to sound levels, response to Kinect-detected gestures or social situations such as group size and even via an EEG detecting headset.

The canopy was fabricated from HDPE, supported by a standard theatre lighting truss and the array of theatre winches available in the studio. The self weight of the material resulted in elegant surface forms.

In the virtual realm, the Material Conflicts Cluster explored solar ingress using Bentley’s Generative Components and Cloud-based analysis tools. The significant innovation was the aim to be multi-objective — a step forward from the single-variable analysis tools used on most projects.

Most prominently displayed was the structure built by the Gridshell Digital Tectonics Cluster. Modelled in Rhino, Grasshopper, Kangaroo, and Karamba with surface relaxation (similar to soap-film techniques) to produce rule lines that can be used rationally with straight members of unequal length, this was convincing example of mass customisation.

The most unexpected substance in use was clay, a material not usually associated with digital events. Both the Ceramics 2.0 and Transgranular Perspiration Clusters experimented with making clay smarter. Ceramics 2.0 used a robot arm equipped with a simple cutting wire to mass customise ceramic tiles or clay bricks.

Meanwhile, Transgranular Perspiration explored the possibilities of ceramics, embedding sensors in tile samples to measure their performance. The aim is to develop ceramic units that may have varying layers with different performances to act as passive building conditioners.

The work with clay may prove to be most significant in the long term. At the moment, most smart-building systems have a shorter lifespan than building materials.

If clay and other bulk materials can be made smarter, there could be significant benefits.

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Readers' comments (9)

  • Smart geometry is NOT the answer. Some knowledge about the history of architecture and cities, a critical understanding of the condition of modernity, and a considerable amount of reading, are much more likely to result in meaningful architecture.

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  • I think you'd find that almost everyone at the conference, which included me, would agree with your second sentence, though not exclusively.

    Any dialogue that stresses architecture is x not y is as pointless as it is untrue. Also seems a curious choice to express a strong view point but remain anonymous. Are you embarrassed to be associated with your own opinions?

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  • No, it's just that I don't want my name all over the internet for the next 50 years.

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  • Marc Thomas

    I don't think anyone involved is saying they have 'the' answer to architecture!

    The point of SmartGeometry is to get people together to explore what might be possible in a manner that won't often happen in practice. Some of the ideas may then develop and inform designers. Some of the techniques, particularly those from the last three SG workshops, may result in products or tools that will be used in real buildings. The interactive fritting featured above may actually appear quite soon. Other ideas may be slower burning.

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  • Palladio: there's smart geometry for you. And a lot more besides.

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  • Oh wait, you probably think Palladio is the name of a software package.

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  • I'm not clear what your point is? SG is inclusive, but it happens to be a specialist conference about exploratory technology in Architecture and Engineering.

    I'm not so sure Palladio's geometry was that smart either, but I'm sure you'd be willing to expand on what you mean by that.

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  • Marc Thomas

    "Oh wait, you probably think Palladio is the name of a software package."

    So not only anonymous but insulting too!

    Knowledge and interest in technology does not preclude knowledge and interest in architecture or its history. Be careful about your assumptions.

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  • tesserae

    Palladio is the most copied architect in the world. But nothing wrong with clever clay products as long as they really work, no doubt expensive though. Would this make clay sophisticated? rather than traditional.

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