All visible elements of the design, except the glass, have been fabricated as stacked sectional elements cut from fl at plywood sheets by a single 3-axis numeric command milling machine. The ceilings, walls, fl oors and static furniture have all been made as striated ply laminated elements, with functional elements such as ventilation grilles, light pockets, and door handles formed directly by milling the mass of wood. This unitary fabrication method offers a remarkable streamlining of the typical multi-trade assemblage techniques of extant lateindustrial protocols, with evident economies of labor, materials and logistics. Despite the formal complexity that such process allows, a radical economy is offered in a single fabricator with a versatile digital tool being able to execute the project in toto.
The formal vocabulary emerges directly from the continuous machining process, where the numeric command machine executes curved cuts with equal precision as straight lines, essentially indifferent to the complexity or number of cuts. There is effi ciency in maintaining surface continuity, large and highly accurate prefabricated parts quickly installed on site without the need for multi-component assembly. This is manifest in benches that curl out of fl oors, or reception desks that emerge as inflections from the general field. The continuity of surface, in fact assembled into an apparent unity from many highly accurate customized parts, is the formal extension of the machining logic, challenging the component-assembly aesthetic of machine-age fabrication logic.
The functional office space is trapped between two ‘active’surfaces, the floor and ceiling, which are each animated by functional attributes. The base spatial arrangement is established by the ‘gathering’ of the floor into a reception desk, or by the ‘pull’ of the ceiling down to ground for structure, or up to sky for light. Overlaid across this is the basic flow of people expressed as a meandering path from elevator down the length of the space. At a second scale, the edges of the floor extend and curl to provide perimeter benches, while the ceiling ‘lifts’ over activities beneath it, single offices having more constraint than open-plan offices. At a more detail level, the surfaces inflect for services, punctured by vectors of light, ‘breathing’ open as gills to distribute air. At desks, the ventilation grilles ‘retract’ to offer a hand pull, or the table ‘opens’ to offer electrical outlets. This establishes a performative aesthetic, the form and detail expressive of the base functions that the architecture supports, be they social or technical. Again, this suggests an ‘alloplastic’ latency as an emergent aesthetic, where architectural surfaces and spaces legibly ‘trace’ functional attributes.
The surfaces of the project deform to perform technically, such as the bumps or valleys in the floor used to capture the glass, or the ventilation grilles that warp to the curvature of the ceiling.
These functional attributes were developed as ‘parametrically’ variable elements, applied so as to locally adapt to the base surface conditions ‘automatically’ (they self-generate to suit their host site). Where the glass wall is longer, so the structural fold of the fl oor heightens to augment its grip, the entire series of bumps then varied by a second-order constraint. Where airflow is increased locally, the vents elongate to baffle the flow proportionally, flaring the ribs of the ceiling wider.
Scripting / Machining Protocols
It was imperative to streamline the actual milling process for speed and economy. This issue was compounded in that the lowest tender came from a millwork fabricator with a single 3-axis CNC machine. This dictated that we develop milling protocols for the complex-curved edges of the plywood sheets in order to find the most elegant ‘weeping’ tool paths to cut the parts with maximum efficiency. To facilitate this, we developed a series of scripted protocols that would analyze the surface geometry and automatically divide the parts, deploying toolpaths in lieu of actual geometric information. As architects, we handed over actual milling files for fabrication, already nested onto plywood sheets to minimize waste, which were the actual cutting instructions then issued digitally to the numeric command machine. These highly abstract machine instructions displaced the usual representative precepts of architectural production, but in fact we developed a machinic ghost of the final form, never modeling an accurate original! Well over one million linear feet of cut were issued, a shift in the base protocol of contracting logic, the architect now fully in control of every detail via fabrication code. Machine-age manufacturing logic shifts to digital fabrication processes.
- Mark Goulthorpe
An office refurbishment that relentlessly deploys numeric command machining of sustainable plywood to evidence the versatility and efficiency available via CAD-CAM design-build processes. The project displaces the combinatorial logic of ready-made components typical of late-industrial process for a seamless and non-standard protocol of customized fabrication. A formal aesthetic emerges from these processes , imbuing the design with a curvilinear continuity at a detail and spatial level.
In a material sense, the project assumes a radical environmental agenda, using a sustainable and carbon-absorbing raw material (forested spruce), translated efficiently into refined and functional elements via dexterous low-energy digital tooling.
dECOi: Mark Goulthorpe (Principal), Raphael Crespin (Project Architect), Gabriel Blue Cira, Matt Trimble, Priyanka Shah, MIT: Kaustuv de Biswas, Mathematics Prof Alex Scott (Oxford University), Gensler Associates: Helen Heitman, Pablo Garcia (Consultant), Tricore: Paul Jacobson (General Contractor), CWKeller: Shawn Keller (Millwork Contractor), Client: CChange Investments / Zero+, Photos: Anton Grassl