Matter – Chapter 25: Composite Tectonics
This chapter, written by Marcelo Spina and Georgina Huljich followed the science and exploration of synthetic and composite materials in the fabrication of two very differing applications; Case A: unibodies of FRP (fiber reinforced polymers), and Case B: an office building in Chengdu, China, using GFRC (glass fiber reinforced cement).
The overall argument of the authors is that composites are an area of architecture design that is flexible and takes advantage of the plastic qualities of composites for new purposes or expressions. This is done without a “reverse engineering” that creates a composite design which mimics the known characteristics of materials we are familiar with. Spina and Huljich consider Hollywood set production of the past to be “reverse engineering”.
Their FRP unibodies combine core-mat or balsa wood with fiber cloth, and resin. These can be combined many differing ways or layered to produce varying structural qualities. The fibers in the composites can give appearances of bulk and thickness while remaining lightweight. Surfaces can be artificially manipulated for a desired effect due to the uneven distribution of materials within. Being able to change the material properties of these composites opens new possibilities for today’s material innovations according to the authors.
The Chengdu office building was an innovative test at a larger scale. The GFRC components were all designed and fabricated offsite to integrate seamlessly with traditional materials, accentuating a unique design that would be difficult to obtain otherwise.
Both case studies could be applicable for my design to Acorn Alley. I am proposing insertion of pergolas in several locations of the alley and the centrally located plaza. I wanted to use wood in fabrication for the way it complements the alley brick and pavers. It also produces a desired texture when painted. The biggest hindrance would be water, sunlight, mold, and freeze effects over time. Composites could be a solution to maintenance and could also be designed to mimic the structural and aesthetic appearance of wood. Choice of a currently produced composite would be critical, so as not to appear artificial.
Pedestrian study of Acorn Alley
My study of pedestrians and the usage patterns of Acorn Alley Kent, Ohio was conducted on a Tuesday evening from 7:00 until 8:00 p.m. The evening was cold for November and all parking into and around Acorn Alley was filled. I had to park west on Main Street at the bridge.
Parked automobiles indicated downtown activity was high but my study reveals that usage in Acorn Alley is minimal. For the evening hour of observation I tallied all the pedestrians walking through the alley. In all I counted; (26) adults, (14) college students, (3) children, and (1) aged person.
Over half of the pedestrians were using the alley only for passage to somewhere else. About 10 came into the alley to access one of the shops or food establishments open at that hour. About 7, who were inside the shops or food establishments when I arrived, left on my watch to move on somewhere else outside the alley.
I counted 12 businesses with entrances on the alley. Of those, only 5 were open for business and 3 out of the 5 have a posted closing of 8 p.m. for Tuesday evening.
Summary: The businesses at Acorn Alley are not taking advantage of the pedestrian activity downtown on a weekday evening for whatever the reason.
New Mexico Taos style shade
As I leafed through the images in this chapter I immediately recognized elements that would tangent well with the elements I want to detail in my assignment #3 model. As I moved into reading “Detailing Articulation” by Phillip Anzalone and Stephanie Bayard, I soon realized this piece would need more than one reading to grasp the main points.
What I took away from the introduction is that digital design has evolved, in the past decade, to the point of being able to better apply to built projects and the materiality of those projects. Digital design is no longer primarily abstract. Two concepts are then examined through built projects; continuity and operative uniformity.
“Framing Space” under the heading “Structured Materiality” reminds me most of my own model. This project is represented by structural frame components fabricated of stainless steel nodes (connections) and extruded aluminum struts. This framework is infilled with multiple panel materials of varying texture. All components were milled using CNC machinery. Anzalone and Bayard claim that even pre-computational wall systems breakdown into a lighter-weight composition when detailed. “Framing Space” becomes even more light-weight, or porous due to the experimental use of materials, their fabrication, and the connections chosen.
I can’t claim to understand entirely how the authors used this project to explain continuity and operative uniformity, but I am intrigued at how the node connections, the framework, and the varying material panels can be an inspiration of how I want to detail and construct my model of a backyard pool shade in Buenos Aires. My framework should be light-weight with pre-fabricated connection nodes and translucent panels fitted over or between the framework parts. The detailing should show how the structure is built and that it can be easily dismantled for bad weather.
A Brise-Soleil without a Building
I am becoming accustomed to seeing the brise-soleil as an architectural component, arching out above the top floor windows of office buildings in this area. Their function, at first, was a mystery to me. Today, I know they are for reducing the amount of sunlight and therefore heat that enters though the windows of a building. The design is a passive way to control indoor occupant comfort.
This essay by Hilary Sample briefly follows the Modernist genesis and evolution of the brise-soleil and its many variations. I found this helpful. In a way, the brise-soleil could be categorized alongside the heat and air-conditioning system, but Sample considers it to be a parasitic addition to the façade of a building which expands the distance between inside and outside. It only takes a small leap, then, to understand the thought behind building a brise-soleil without a building.
Urban Battery was installed in Scottsdale, Arizona for multiple functions. With that in mind, I consider it very progressive thinking and design. Is the primary function to shade the parking lot and strip mall behind it, or is its purpose to be a power station, a vertical greenhouse, and a billboard? It was designed with all these in mind and likely functions in even more ways. That being said, I am glad I don’t live next door to it!
Kiel Moe’s essay Matter is but Captured Energy was, for the most part, a good read for me and very thought provoking. It is pretty clear that it is necessary in the built world to make adjustments with a view toward sustainability and conservation of natural resources. Moe makes a case for thinking this way right now, giving two examples of this type of design.
I first became aware that matter is energy in a practical physics class a while back. Matter became what we see now, through a transformative process requiring energy. The matter we see now will eventually transform into another state, also requiring energy. There are two things that confuse me in Moe’s essay. First, energy is never defined and the term is used interchangeably in a few places, meaning different things. I have previously understood that matter is captured energy, which Moe repeats. The essay then tells how matter is activated by energy and that matter can channel energy systems like, air-conditioning, heat, light, etc. Not, that Moe is wrong, but I’m getting confused. Second, physics teaches that following each transformation of energy, the strength, or output is weakened. How can this concept be reconciled with the design of the built world?
Much of the essay focused on the comparison between “stick” and “stack” technologies. Stack being a model for much better sustainability. The design-build project in Colorado was a very clear example of Moe’s argument for material sustainability. There are two critiques I have of the design that need further explanation. First, the roof does not overhang the stacked walls. How will snow and rain penetration be abated in the long term? Secondly, is this space really livable for the climate of Colorado? Related to that is the uncertainty of what the purpose of this space actually was made for.