p3_final_Andy McCarthy_#001

Practical Application: P3 – Wall Segment

Some comments on my P1 post pointed out that there are very few brick-laying robots available for contemporary architects to use.  Although this is true, my intention for the post was to show how bricks could be lain in the future, and that this wouldn’t necessarily affect construction now.  I was imagining that one day everything would be built with technological precision by robots.  After doing a bit more research into fluid forms made of brick, I came across the Church of Christ the Worker, designed by the Uruguayan architect Eladio Dieste.  He designed a roof for the church with a thin membrane of brick, only one wythe wide.  The double-curvature catenary arch he invented is called a gaussian vault.  The church was designed in 1950 and completed in 1956.  I’m not sure if it took six years to build, but every part of the church was built by hand and onsite using scaffolding that connected taught rope.  Even though a robotic arm can build a complex brick wall, so can the human hand.

Cristo Obrero:

Image courtesy of http://www.urbanhabitatchicago.org/blog/pioneering-engineers/

Image courtesy of http://www.digitalfutures.info/1/sinusoidal-wall-of-eladio-dieste-studies-001%20/

Grasshopper script of Christ the Worker:

Dieste GH 6.ghx

Fabrication technology today makes more precise stencils, dies, and molds than the handiwork of the 1950s.  The CNC machine and powder printing machine can make molds with great specificity for poured concrete modules.  The laser cutter can create amazingly accurate dies, which is what I originally thought I would use to lay out the concrete slabs.  I decided to build a retaining wall/bench for my final project, one without mortar but a highly durable epoxy.  This project was just a demonstration, and since I wouldn’t be gluing each course to the ones below and above it, I decided to plot stencils of the layout on 36″-wide rolls.  The plots had to be exactly to scale, with just enough information per sheet to place the slabs correctly.  A 7′-long, 3′-wide stencil was plotted for each of the six slab courses in this retaining wall segment.  A black outline showed the location for that particular slab, plus a gray outline of the slab that was just lain below it.  This way every slab’s location was demarcated by the location of the slab below it.  Originally I planned to laser cut a length-wise die for the undulating wall, and have those six dies anchored by two dowels, one on each side of the wall segment.  This would have hypothetically worked as well.  At the final critique Ming suggested that several top-to-bottom dies could have also been used to ensure accuracy of the wave surface.  The success of this project is its exploration of constructing a parametric design without using heavy machinery.

I first tried a script by Walter Zesk.  It only allowed one course of bricks to be created, so I changed everything on the script that was for curves into surfaces.  However, what I ended up with was too twisty.

I first tried the script by Walter Zesk. It only allowed one course of bricks to be created, so I changed everything on the script that was for curves into surfaces. However, what I ended up with was too twisty.

A parametric design for a brick structure allows for many changes to the variables and parameters of a project that would be incalculable for a 20th century architect.  This wall segment was built by hand after first using standard-performance computers, affordable and user-friendly software, and the use of complex, although accessible, fabrication technology.  There were many options for each student to choose from in designing their final project.  Some students had higher performing computers and chose to work outside of the lab.  Some people downloaded software that wasn’t available on the Daap computers, specifically Galapagos, which was used in one project.  Most students used Maya or Rhino/Grasshopper.  Most students laser cut or powder printed their projects.  For my project, I found that the software that can modify parameters for the most nuanced result was Grasshopper.  In GH the parameters such as wall height, wall width, module dimensions, the number of courses and the space between them, etc, are connected to number sliders.  The range of variation was set, and I would adjust the parameters with the sliders to find the best outcome.  However, there were a few scripts that were published on the internet, including Ming’s site, that used sliders to modify voxels and how they were stacked.  It took three tries to find the most direct result.

Ultimately, I used Ming Tang's explode script to make the project.

Ultimately, I used Ming Tang's explode script to make the project.

I then sectioned each brick course.

I then sectioned each brick course.

After sectioning the brick layout, I plotted six 3'x7' stencils.

After sectioning the brick layout, I plotted six 3'x7' stencils.

The retaining wall/bench was originally conceived as a seat for about three people.  It was ultimately designed as a wall that had three nooks where people could step into from the sidewalk and send a text message, or wait for a car to pull around.  The wave is like a shelf or high bench at some points, and like a wall with a slight lean backwards at other points.  Because retaining walls must resist the lateral force of the earth they hold back, the orientation of the concrete slabs would be best lain parallel to that force.  However for a seat, the preferred orientation would have the 16″ side perpendicular to the person, not the 8″ side.


First attempt using Walter Zesk’s script (http://www.zesks.com/walter/grasshopper-scripting):

make CA wall along curve 2 wythes

make CA wall along curve 2 wythes, modification

Ming Tang’s explode script (http://www.ming3d.com/DAAP):


I later found a very good script by Ted Ngai (http://www.tedngai.net/experiments/parametric-brick-tiling.html):


Watch the R-O-B at work in Chinatown:

P3_proposal_Andy McCarthy_#001

Retaining Wall/Bench

The intended location of this retaining wall/bench is just outside of the blue box. 
In lieu of using a robot arm to pick up each brick and place it precisely next to each other, a “stencil” laser-cut from chipboard will be used to orient and specify the location of each brick.
The brick dimensions are 3-3/8 in. x 7-5/8 in. x 2-1/4 in.  Each concrete brick weighs 6lbs and costs $0.59.  Only a segment of the bench will be constructed–about 100 bricks.  No mortar will be used, nor glue, because this is an experiment.
At the edges of the wall I would like to disintegrate the form, partly by changing the positions of the bricks.
The image below shows the modeled surface of a condominium on Mulberry Street in NYC done by Shop Architects.  I’m not sure how they made the brick module follow the contours of the surface, but hopefully this can be achieved through voxelating a lofted form.
The laser cutter will only be used to create the dies for the placement of the bricks.

Here are just a few permutations of a wall segment when treating it like a strip of paper: pinch, twist, tear, push and fold.

p2_Andy McCarthy_#001

As a point of departure for project 2, I decided to base the screen on a recognizable square image with high contrast values.  The first idea that came to me was the iconic silkscreen print of Marilyn Monroe.  Warhol’s rough and variable factory aesthetic derives from multiple iterations.  As a further, more drastic iteration, my final product was not necessarily meant to be understood as a face, let alone Marilyn Monroe.  It was an exploration of the outputs of a few options in Maya.  The screen is not the most eye-catching object, but it’s curious enough for someone to look at for a while, so I think it’s successful in its subtlety.

The idea to use apertures as dark values (or in this case, light) came from Gramazio and Kohler, the architecture duo from the case study in the first assignment.  Another parametric project they designed was a winery facade modeled after the shape of champagne grapes/bubbles.  In my opinion, it looks a bit boring against the dramatic setting, but I’m interested in the idea of using parametric surfaces to signify building type/purpose.

My first step in this experiment was to lay a 40×40 grid over 3 separate 14×14 surfaces.  One of the project parameters was for the screen to comprise three separate surfaces.  Red, green and blue can create all of the colors of light.  The light in this case would be negative (cut) and its absence a positive value (opaque.)  I imported the red, green, and blue channels of the image onto the grids.  The vertices with a majority of one of those channel hues were soft-selected, and then they were extruded upward.  A small 2D asterisk shape was driven by the Y location to increase in size (aperture) as it moved upward to each vertex.  The most colorful areas on each screen became the most transparent.  The driven asterisk also rotated 360 degrees as it moved on the Y axis. The rotated asterisk shape was intended to resemble a twinkle shape.

p1_Andy McCarthy_#001

Pike Loop

The Pike Loop, a temporary sculptural installation with architectural implications, is a looping wall along a pedestrian island in the middle of Pike Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown.  The project was designed by Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, two Swiss architects and professors at Der Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule in Zurich.  Gramazio and Kohler put 3 years of research into the realization of the full-scale digital fabrication robot known as ROB.  This high-precision industrial robot, inspired by automobile assembly line technology, is fixed to a low-bed trailer that moves incrementally as it stacks and epoxy-glues bricks in parametric spacing and orientation.  Other parametric fabrication projects using ROB are Gramazio and Kohler’s award-winning 2008 entry in the Venice Biennial, and the Gantenbein Winery in Switzerland.  This technology is not limited to masonry.  Wood, steel and glass are also potential materials for the mass production of structures.  ROB is a step beyond CNC milling and 3D printing because it brings precision to on site labor.  The Pike Loop project broke ground in September 2009, and erected over 7,000 bricks in 4 weeks, all the while in full view to the public.  Hypothetically an entire building, or even a whole landscape, could be made by robots!

Click here to see ROB in action.