A Change of State
location: atlanta georgia
site: college of architecture south facade adjacent to the college cafe and lounge
client: ventulett research grant
size: 60’ in length
contribution: project coordinator, designer, researcher
professor: nader tehrani
instructor: tristan al-hadid
project lead: brandon clifford
project team: richard aeck, jonathan baker, daniel baron, vish deo, brandi flanagan, steven georgalis, mohamed mohsen, lorraine ong, vinay shiposkar
This installation is the result of a one year research process with a core team of students as part of the Thomas W. Ventulett III Distinguished Chair in Architectural Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The pedagogy of the course focused on a series of formal exercises seeking to establish an innovative relationship between geometry, material performance, and methods of assembly. Specifically, the task of the fabrication project was to analyze and develop a three dimensional installation whose method of fabrication was limited to two dimensional material sources such as sheet metal, aircraft ply, or polycarbonate sheets. In so doing, our mission was to radicalize the potentials of sheet material by provoking it to take on structural, spatial, programmatic, and phenomenal dimensions while adopting techniques that bring this variety of agendas into organic alignment. From the perspective of technique, the most important aspect of this project was the identification that two dimensional surfaces gain access to the third by way of the ruled surface. , In turn, since the ruled surface is the only way of creating a developable surface without the introduction of ancillary geometries –such as triangulation or other techniques related to the breaking down of complex geometries and compound surfaces—we could take advantage of this guiding principle to calibrate the formal explorations.
Of the various contingencies that helped form the installation, the structural imperative played the most salient role. If traditional categorizations have identified such variations as form-active (arch) , vector-active (truss) and surface active (shell) structural typologies, the idea of this project was to develop a technique that could seamlessly navigate between these variations through the invention of a transformable geometrical code, something without precedent. The aim of this geometric code is to operate at a topological level, accommodating difference within a continuous and unmediated logic. The logic of the geometric unit, then, was based on the introduction and elimination of vertices– in combination with surface rotation—in order to create transformations in the structure without succumbing to the limitations of conventional typologies and the requisite ancillary mediating details for joints and connections. In this way, we were able to develop a strategy to create phase changes–metaphorically much like the way in which H2O can undergo transitions from water, to ice, steam, or snow.
After many tests and a dialogue with various material suppliers, polycarbonate sheets were donated by Bayer Films as the basis for the final installation. This material demonstrated the pliability to rotate and function effectively for the projected ruled surfaces we had designed. So too, the material has the benefit of exhibiting a strange stealth ambiguity as viewed in different light, between day and night– but the silence of its transparency was perhaps most significant because of the way in which it underscored the presence of geometry, while erasing its material presence. The polycarbonate is greatly impacted by the various phase changes it undergoes from one end to the other, on its site in the south portico of the Architecture Building.
Starting from the east, at its base, the structure is organized according to the stacked logic of masonry construction. Dense like masonry, the stacked polycarbonate works in compression, while its transparency forms a deep grey mass as the layers amass creating a long bench. Next, as the plates delaminate, they rotate to form stacked box beams, vaulted on top of each other—akin to a form-active logic– whiling wrapping around one of the columns of the south porch. Undulating in section and in plan, this portion derives a site specific logic, while forming a strong base plate from which to initiate a long span. Next, as the structure lifts off the ground, the box beams transition yet again, exfoliating into different vectors to produce the compressive and tensile members of a truss. Maybe the most enigmatic of the various phase changes, this segment seduces intellectually in the way it spatializes the surface, while offering a beguiling visual phenomenon that eludes any rational understanding of it simple vector active geometry. Spanning about thirty feet, the unwound plates of polycarbonate reassemble to box beams to create a base for landing the spanning truss on the second floor beam of the south porch. Finally, the geometry of the plates undergo one last phase change to create a folded plate cantilever at the west end of the installation, bringing the installation to a terminus by way of a surface active condition that gains its rigidity through the geometry of the surface.
Though the installation is site specific, the evolving geometric and structural transformations suggests a broader and more flexible encounter with other possible permutations. Thus, the installation was developed as a system that can be confronted with a range of scenarios, and thus adaptable. The system is broken down into discrete twisted panels, each of which can be connected to neighboring units by way of rivets. In turn, each panel is designed with a family of details that provide for tolerances that accommodate for the variability of rotations, material flexibility and the desired effect of continuity. In this installation, the detail is the prerequisite to the form, and the precise connections, rotations, and joints provide for the configurative base from which the transforming figures of the various structural conditions emerge.