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Optimization as part-reduction

The technique of form finding, from a purely structural perspective, often results in curvilinear forms that negotiate the structural forces between established constraints. In order to fabricate these geometries, the use of programming has been incredibly useful, as an algorithm is able to subdivide and panelize highly intricate surfaces. Traditionally, in a mechanical paradigm, parts are manufactured following principles of standardization and arranged into larger assemblies. A series of parts would achieve a meaning or purpose, like executing an action, as in the case of a motor, giving rise to a “whole” that is more than the sum of its parts.The continuous paradigm understood that nature doesn’t operate with these mechanical principles, as nature is able to gradually differentiate intensities at a microscopic level, allowing parts to operate fluidly within a field. The mechanical paradigm, therefore, has been challenged by a new organicist paradigm that would “grow”26 form as opposed to assembling it.

Strategies of part reduction through coalescence proposes dissolution of tectonics, allowing smaller microscopic units like fibers (as in the case of composites) or fully fluid materialities (as is the case with contour crafting) to define architectural morphology. This would enable the materialization of the fluid curvilinear shapes emerging from parametric design software, defining a taxonomy of novel tectonics.27 Following the continuous model, assemblies of discrete parts are slowly replaced by smaller and smaller elements such as filaments and fibers that are able to coalesce into larger shells not through mechanical connections but chemical ones. Tectonics is placed in opposition to composites, where accumulation and phase-changing properties are able to derive shells from gradient arrangements. As presented by Greg Lynn:

The term tectonic is a term that architects love to use as it reminds them of their affection for large collections of mechanically assembled parts. Architecture, probably more than most fields, deals with a great number of parts, their management, their assembly and most importantly, their expression as discrete parts. It’s inevitable that we are going to have to deal with tectonics; however, the more I know about composites the more I hate things like screws, nails, bolts, and everything else associated with mechanical rather than chemical connections. It’s incredible how annoyed I get when I see twenty thousand dollars of stainless bolts weighing several thousand pounds arrive at a job site. I’d rather have glue; I’m a big, big glue fan.28

Diagram of the jigsaw puzzle analogy referring to the result of post rationalizing geometry for CNC milling fabrication

FIGURE 2.8 Diagram of the jigsaw puzzle analogy referring to the result of post rationalizing geometry for CNC milling fabrication.

The espousal of chemical connections over mechanical ones points to a hierarchy of the continuous over the discrete, where parts are subservient to a whole, fulfilling a unique role in a larger assembly just like in the jigsaw puzzle.

The process of modeling and fabricating under the continuous paradigm has been described by Patrik Schumacher29 as parametric articulation, placing emphasis on the fact that such techniques leave behind the toolbox of composition as a form generator, the legacy of the modern and postmodern movement which relied on the arrangement of discrete units in space. The term “articulation,” in the eyes of Schumacher, describes the intensive dynamic process of negotiation between forces that ultimately arrive to smooth forms that synthesize the series of variables that are used as inputs.

An optimization technique that makes evident the parametric coalescence of parts is the algorithm of topological optimization; where inputs are placed within a voxelized container represented as a solid mass, and an iterative process is gradually able to remove the mass that does not perform structural load. In order to achieve this, the algorithm simulates the lines of stress, tension and compression that the mass would have to resist based on the constraints established as inputs. This algorithm has been used as a flagship demonstration by companies such as Autodesk of how computational design could generate unexpected solutions that have been optimized for material and manufacturing performance. One of the key capabilities of topological optimization is to override the need of mechanical subcomponents, as it is able to look at the internal forces within a digital model and come up with a singular new topology that performs what previously had been done by several interdependent parts. The algorithm is informed with the capabilities of additive manufacturing, allowing the generation of unique new topologies that reduce the need for parts and material. As discussed previously with the case of the Aeon Engine, here part reduction is a key factor for the optimization of form.This is what the industry calls “disruptive”; an economic opportunity to bypass an established production chain, internalizing the production of a building element through new manufacturing methods. Optimization through part reduction aims to attack not only the inefficiencies in structural performance but more importantly, the inefficiencies and redundancies in a production chain. This optimization perspective idealizes a fully integrated production chain that is able to correct and improve efficiency (and profitability) of any building system.

Here it becomes clear how the foundations and ideologies of parametric design as a framework for optimization can generate a trend toward vertical integration. This trend is founded in the alignment between the articulation of form using

Topological Optimization technique used for the design of a metallic joint manufactured through 3-D printing technology

FIGURE 2.9 Topological Optimization technique used for the design of a metallic joint manufactured through 3-D printing technology.

Source: Project by Arup. © Davidfotografie.

Contour Crafting manufacturing. Extruder is able to print layers of viscous material such as concrete

FIGURE 2.10 Contour Crafting manufacturing. Extruder is able to print layers of viscous material such as concrete.

Source: Image courtesy of XtreeE.

USH Sinusoidal Wall by XtreeE built using contour crafting manufacturing

FIGURE 2.11 USH Sinusoidal Wall by XtreeE built using contour crafting manufacturing.

Source: Image courtesy of XtreeE.

continuous methodologies and the capitalist imperative for increasing performance. As discussed in Chapter 1, the progressive ephemeralization of building technologies can effectively produce lighter and cheaper buildings, but under a fully integrated framework only those sitting at the top of such enterprise are able to reap the benefits of their production.

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