April 06, 2016

Report from the Shop: Full-Scale Prototypes Inform Design

Our new fabrication studio gives us the space to experiment with full-scale prototypes and mock-ups. 
©Michael Moran/OTTO

Peter Curry, manager of our fabrication studio, discusses improvements to our shop space and recent prototypes related to our work at Brown University's School of Engineering and other projects.

The workshop in our new studio in Northern Liberties has been instrumental in expanding our capacity for building mock-ups and prototypes. These fabrications are central to our research-based approach, allowing us to test actual materials and assemblies as part of our design process. Outfitted with a Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) router, metalworking, and woodworking tools, the shop's massive steel and glass doors open onto the street and allow us to load building-sized assemblies in and out.

In addition to giving us the space we need to create full-scale prototypes, the shop has been our laboratory for working through a variety of questions that have arisen over the course of our practice. While working on a new arts complex for a college campus in New England, our main focus was the technical parameters of concrete casting. Though concrete and its working processes are conceptually simple, the reality of the material and its associated casting processes are highly nuanced. Part of what makes concrete work so technically complex is that construction projects are restricted by local material availability, as well as by the knowledge, experience, and craft ability of a given contractor.

Detail drawings for two of the concrete prototype formworks show different possibilities for joints and board thicknesses.

Concrete's variability was especially critical when considering the design for the university art project's exterior. The project team wanted to create a concrete facade, but still compliment the largely brick and wood buildings found on the rest of the campus. This required an extensive investigation of board-formed concrete finishes for the facade. The prototypes created as part of this investigation were intended to evaluate the casting effects of different wood species, surface textures, surface treatments, and board-to-board joint details. The lumber selected for this project needed to be locally available in Massachusetts, with finishes and treatments that are normative to the concrete trade. We produced a total of 19 casts, with each prototype assisting the project team in determining the proper wood species, joint detail, and design strategy for deploying a montage of surface finishes across the building's facade.

The “V-joint” prototype for the concrete facade was highly successful for evaluating different potential materials and board patterns.

Facade design details like the board-formed concrete finishes are one of the most commonly prototyped details here at KieranTimberlake due to the fact that facades are one of the biggest statements an architectural project can make. Because our new workshop is twice the size of our old space, we are now able to realize fabrications at a much larger scale. This increased capacity has already benefited our work with Brown University, which saw us create an ambitious series of full-scale facade mock-ups for the university's New School of Engineering. One of the mock-ups for Brown was an 11-foot-tall, 9-foot-wide shading assembly prototype. Comprised of two vertical shading fins and two perforated metal panels, the shading assembly prototype also included a 12-foot-tall, 1:1 scale mock-up of a shading fin that was milled out of polyurethane foam using a CNC router.

The Brown University shading assembly prototype was instrumental in facilitating discussion and decision making regarding the proposed design.

Milled out of a block of polyurethane foam, the Brown University shading fin mock-up was produced to evaluate the aesthetics of the fin's form.

In recent months, we have been working in the shop to produce a series of facade prototypes that support the project design at the University of Washington. We've also completed an enclosure for our CNC router table that is made of repurposed walls from Cellophane House.  
To read more about on-going and completed research projects, click here.