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CONCRETE PAVILION

This pavilion was a project for my technology class at UIC (taught by Lluis Ortega).  We have quick design projects in which we analyze two precedents and combine their structural logic into a small pavilion.  Emmanuel Gracia and I were assigned Saarinen’s TWA terminal and Ito’s Kakamigahara crematorium .  The formwork for this concrete pavilion is made from bent bamboo on CNC’ed wood scaffolding.  Once the concrete is set, the bamboo is burnt away, leaving a charred, corrugated underside.

Here is the full description we wrote for our class:

Toyo Ito’s Kakamigahara Crematorium, completed in 2007, is in many ways the logical evolutionary zenith of the architectural and technological project started by Saarinen’s TWA terminal 50 years earlier.  In the design for the crematorium, Ito optimized every aspect of the TWA terminal’s constructional logic.  Free from the constraints of the paper model and analogue construction techniques, Ito replaced the edges and seams that were prominent in the design of the TWA terminal with refined continuous surfaces.  Textural traces of the wood formwork and remnants of the multiple concrete pours are replaced with perfectly smooth and uniform white concealing paint.  The primitive four arch structural system was replaced by a field of columns, optimized for maximum load bearing efficiency using calculus based simulation software.  The construction process also was streamlined:  rather than having the workers cut and bend wood ad-hoc to best fit dimensions found in hundreds of sectional drawings, Ito used CNC routers to pre-fabricate complex double curved scaffolding.  Ito was even able to hide the HVAC units by sandwiching them into the undulating surface of the roof.

These advances in computer technology and building construction methodologies allow for the complete erasure of any visible means of construction.  Columns, the ceiling, and the roof form a perfectly continuous surface.  The net result is pure architectural form: rigor without symmetry; landscape without nature; calculated architectural expression.

For the design of our pavilion, we propose an alternate evolutionary path for the TWA Terminal. Within the context of contemporary architectural discourse, and by using recent developments in computational and fabrication technologies, we wish to reexamine the “troublesome” aspects of the TWA terminal that Ito left behind:  symmetry, imperfect repetition, seams and edges, tectonic material articulation, a tension between continuous and disjointed surfaces, and a sense of primitive monumentality.

The pavilion is biologically rather than mathematically symmetrical .  The formal organizational logic of our pavilion is symmetrical about a rotational axis.  While the topographical makeup of each of the sections is identical, the exact form of each section is free to change based on environmental variables.  In the case of this pavilion, we distorted the overhanging wings in response to viewing angle conditions on the site.  While the roof is continuous, the three sections appear to have an imperfect fit, like a clump of cells.

The formwork for our pavilion is determined by interpolating curves at regular intervals on every surface of the computer model.   These curves serve as guidelines for the overlaying of bent bamboo beams.  Curves perpendicular to the bamboo are extracted from the model in order to be CNC’d into scaffolding.  The bamboo is used because it is easily bent when heated and it is relatively uniform in diameter with a small taper.  The taper is used to our advantage: when the curvature of the surface bends perpendicular to the bamboo, the thin ends of the bamboo are stacked up against each other.  When the curvature of the surface is straight perpendicular to the bamboo, the thick and thin ends of the bamboo are alternated in orientation.  This manner of laying out formwork will create a corrugated concrete structure with a one-to-one relationship between the orientation of the corrugation and the direction of the curvature of the surface.

An extra thick mixture of concrete is used to prevent leakage between the cracks of the bamboo.  Once the concrete is set, the bamboo is removed by setting it on fire, leaving a charred corrugated texture on the columns and underside of the roof.  The top of the roof is smooth, and relatively unaffected by the fire underneath.  The end result is a continuous surface with an extreme contrast between exterior and interior, further highlighting the process of construction.

The net result is impure form: symmetry without rigor, naturally articulated but synthetically generated, physically continuous but geometrically disjointed, and technologically advanced in its fabrication but primitive in appearance.

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