Periscope: Foam Tower
design team: brandon clifford, wes mcgee, dave pigram
structural: matthew johnson
build team: brandon clifford, wes mcgee, maciej kaczynski, johanna lobdell, deniz mcgee, kris walters
rigging: tierson boutte
fabrication: university of michigan taubman college of architecture and urban planning
client: modern atlanta 10up competition
Charged with the task of designing a rapidly deploy-able, temporary installation, on a limited budget, with a limited plot — we propose a tower of foam. Through vertical expansion via the omission of a vertical restriction, this tower will engage a broader audience, inviting them to the event similar to searchlights in the night sky.
At first glance, the tower appears to be a tensile fabric pulled vertically by compressive rods, much in the same way a one conceives a deploy-able tent. In fact, the tower functions in opposition to the initial reading. Where the eye reads tensile fabric is truthfully compressive foam, and the compressive rods are actually performing as tensile cables. This rhetorical inversion invites spectators in for closer inspection to find the tower is not constructed of thin surfaces at all, but rather carved from solid blocks of EPS foam. Upon discovering this illusion, the spectator observes their first glimpse into the means and methods of fabrication that make the tower possible.
EPS foam is the backbone to this design. This foam is 90% air by volume, meaning it is inherently volumetric, inexpensive, and lightweight. In addition to these qualities, EPS foam contains no CFC’s and is 100% recyclable/reusable.
Foam is so also extremely lightweight, meaning few people can handle large assemblies. This premise responds to the competition brief’s requirement for a structure that can be rapidly deployed with a minimal number of workers. This proposal takes advantage of larger than life size building blocks to achieve a quickly constructed, and relatively large installation.
A common critique of many digital fabrication exercises is the enormous material waste. We take this concern very seriously. Beyond the efficiency of unit nesting, the methods of fabrication (robotic hotwire) produces no kerf waste and the minimal waste produced in starting and stopping a stock block produce 100% recyclable material. The research and development behind the means and methods of fabrication speak to our approach to design – reciprocity between drawing and making.