TEX-FAB, a regional organization that promotes the integration of advanced computing and fabrication in education and the AEC industry, organizes an annual competition around a conceptual theme that ultimately awards a building commission to the winner.
This year the SKIN competition sought innovative solutions to façade systems through the toolset of parametric design and digital fabrication. The contest coupled the best project with the material support and donated fabrication expertise of Zahner Metals and Rigidized Metals with the efforts led by TEX-FAB to develop the project as a substantial prototypical building envelope with an expert jury serving as a committee of peers.
The competition proposed that building envelope represents the most complex and fundamentally linguistic element of architecture today. Its formal development and performative capacity – what may be called the activated envelope – is foundational to its purpose and presents a dialogue the building has with itself and that of its context. We can understand this relationship in many ways, but ultimately it is one that mimics our own skin. Fundamental to this is an explicit or implicit adaptability found in its performance – how it functions and meets the needs of the building.
The transformation from a static, heavy and obfuscating series of load bearing walls prior to modernism, to its current role of a communicative envelope, dynamical and exploratory, set the stage for this competition and in what we believe is the most important area of research in architecture. It is within this framework that the international digital fabrication competition SKIN asked designers and researchers to speculate, or if they so choose – to present existing research – on the role of the building envelope by exploring new methods to enable the performative and aesthetic qualities of a façade.
A total of 68 entries from across the globe representing 14 countries on 5 continents were narrowed down to 4 finalists and 4 honorable mentions in July 2013 by the First Round jury consisting of Philip Anzalone, Maria Mingallon, Gregg Pasquarelli, Randy Stratman, and Skylar Tibbits. The Second Round juried by James Carpenter, Neil Denari, Mic Patterson and William Zahner conferred and selected from the finalists project 3xLP as the winning project. All four finalists were exhibited at the ACADIA Adaptive Architecture Conference at the University of Waterloo in October, 2013 where the winning team was announced: project 3xLP is the creative effort led by Nicholas Bruscia and Christopher Romano, with assistance from graduate students Phil Gusmano and Dan Vrana from the University at Buffalo.
Project 3xLP, the winning submission to the TEX-FAB SKIN competition conducted design research on the structural properties of textured stainless steel sheeting, which typically is used for skinning and other non-structural purposes. The team conducted performative analyses of the material, and verified the results through full-scale prototyping. Structural studies relied on scale shifts that began with molecular composition and culminated with large-sale geometric systems. The work provides evidence of the adaptability, rigidity, and high performance of thin-gauge, textured metals; it establishes the groundwork for new structurally-based design possibilities using sheet steel.
This ongoing research collaboration between the authors and the Rigidized Metals Corporation was coupled with material and fabrication support from Zahner Metals through the competition development process. The team continued to examine the performative potential of deep-textured metals, namely stainless steel, by reinforcing the relationship between structure and appearance. This relationship is made direct through the rigidizing process and the folded origami system ingeniously developed by the designers and their collaborators.
The project was delivered as a kit-of-parts from Zahner’s Kansas City facililty and assembled by the design team in the gallery at the University of Texas at Austin for the TEX-FAB 5 event. A gallery talk kicked off the event that culminated into a series of lectures and workshops around the theme of Digital Assemblies. In September 2014 the exhibition will travel to the University of Houston College of Architecture to be installed in the atrium of the building and continue on to UT Arlington later in the Fall of 2014.
The competition was a success in terms of ramping up an emerging design research practice via the substantial support offered by established fabrication industry leaders to realize an architectural prototype that raises the awareness of innovative building technology through a process that provided proof of concept.
Additional credits and links:
Competition Winners and Design Team: Nicholas Bruscia and Christopher Romano with Phil Gusmano and Dan Vrana (University at Buffalo)
Christopher Romano is a Research Assistant Professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York and a researcher within the Material Culture Research Group. His research practice and teaching explores the relationship between design, construction and the contemporary culture of building by leveraging regional manufacturing, digital fabrication technology, and material processes to test the latent potential of materials at full-scale (1:1). Recent research and prototyping has focused on the use of folded metal to produce large-scale, self-structuring surfaces that examine the relationship between structure, appearance, and performance.
Nicholas Bruscia is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture at the University at Buffalo, where he is also a researcher in the Center for Architecture and Situated Technologies (CAST). His work and research focuses on the computational design-to- fabrication process and the application of performative material parameters at various scales. Recent projects have explored augmenting manual making techniques with physical computing enabling a formal response to the chemical characteristics of cast materials, and the digital workflows associated with the fabrication of large-scale sheet metal assemblies.
Fabrication and Materials sponsors and collaborators:
Zahner Metals (Kansas City, MO), Bill Zahner, Randy Stratman and Jim Porter
Rigidized Metals (Buffalo, NY), Rick Smith, Chip Skop and Kevin Porteus.
Arup, Montreal QC
Maria Mingallón ing. MSc(Dist) MEng CEng MICE ENV SP
Senior Engineer | Structures
David Heaton, Raf Godlewski, and Stephen Olson