p3_final_Jessica Helmer_#001

Beginnings: P2 – Fractal Screen

At the beginning of the quarter I was interested in using parametric programs to design architecture with fractal properties. Choosing where and when to repeat the fractal pattern, I could create areas of greater or less density to control light, visual access or even express load transfers in a structure. For our first project, a three-layer screen, I chose to go with a simple branching pattern using the “interactive split” and “triangulate” tools in Maya.

P3 – Light Column

Even though I deviated from the fractal patterns for the final project, I still wanted to continue to work with the idea of a pattern with various levels of density and transparency in order to control light. I came across three precedents that would help me in my design.

The first precedent comes from designer Pierre Poussin and his Mitosis Courtyard in downtown Toronto. The courtyard included light columns, made up of a laser cut steel shell wrapped around a frosted polycarbonate cylinder which housed programmable LED’s.

Image courtesy of http://www.pierrepoussin.com/

Pierre’s pattern varied little in scale, however, and I imagined my light column to be more opaque where it met the floor, and more transparent as it met the ceiling. I imagined a density gradient similar one that I found on the website of SOM employee, John Locke.

Image courtesy of http://gracefulspoon.com/blog/2009/03/04/summer-studio/

I also imagined that the column could meet the floor and ceiling in a gradual, sweeping motion. The pattern on the column could then continue onto the ceiling, much like the bamboo cladded restaurant found at the Tang Palace in Hangzhou, China.

Image courtesy of http://www.fcjz.com/

Combining all of these principles I set out to create my light column. I chose to work almost exclusively in Maya and probably took the “long way” around many steps. Because of this, however, I was exposed to a wider range of tools and operations within the program and now feel very comfortable using Maya to design future projects. There were, of course, many iterations that were abandoned and much trial-and-error involved. In the end, I chose to make a column where the apertures 1) increased in diameter and 2) increased in the number of sides as you moved up the column.

The Steps:

My first steps were much like Ming’s “Wood Mirror” tutorial series on www.ming3d.com. I also created a video tutorial series for the column design. Links to my videos can be found in the references section at the end of this blog.

1) I started with a NURBS surface which I bent using the sculpt geometry tool and a simple gradient image. I used soft select and scale tools to alter the grid to my liking.

2) I then created a separate polygon cone with a subdivision axis of 3. I set a driver/driven key on this shape so that it would increase in diameter and in the number of subdivision axes as you moved in the Z direction (long axis of the NURBS plane).

3) I then used Ming’sduplicate with input node script to populate the NURBS surface with the polygon cone. Since the cone had a driver/driven key set, the shapes changed in diameter and subdivision axes as they populated the NURBS plane. They also follow the bend of the NURBS plane that I had set through the sculpt geometry tool.

4) Exporting the shapes (and not the NURBS plane) into Rhino, I used the section tool to cut a straight section through the bottom of the large hexagonal cones and through the tops of the triangle cones.

5) Importing these curves back into Maya, I projected them onto a new NURBS surface and used the trim tool to cut out apertures from those projected shapes.

6) Using the non-linear bend tool I wrapped the NURBS plane into a column (I merged the edges of the seam together in step 8 after I converted the NURB to a polygon). I also used the non-linear twist tool to add further interest to the shape.

7) I applied the lattice deformation tool to create the funnels on either end of the column. This simulated how the column met the ceiling and floor.

8 ) To give the column some thickness for renderings or powder printing, I first converted the NURB into a polygon, merged the edges of the seam together, and extruded. For structural rigidity, I made my powder printed model relatively thick. For my renderings, I extruded less.

9) To create the ceiling effect seen in the final rendering, I used the stitch vertices tool as well as the soft select tool to scale and rotate the pattern.

Final Thoughts

I imagined that this would be a cladding, laser cut from steel and wrapped around a polycarbonate light insert, as in Pierre Poussin’s mitosis column. However, as pointed out in the review, it can certainly be structural just like Frank Lloyd Wright’s mushroom columns in the Johnson Wax building or like Nervi Giatti’s Wool Mill. The pattern and thickness of the ceiling pattern can easily be altered to better reflect structural loading and one could cast it out of concrete or steel.

The rendered scene as a whole reminded me of an ocean theme. The columns themselves are reminiscent of certain coral and the ceiling pattern gives the effect of rippling water. I imagined that lighting effects could enhance this feel. Overhead LED lighting that change in intensity and color, combined with the shadows of the ceiling pattern, could create some very cool “underwater“ effects on the floor.

I’ve found that rendering certain lighting effects in Maya is much harder than I thought. I’m interested in furthering my knowledge in this area so I can create a comprehensive scene that properly reflects what I imagined it to be.


The following links are swf flash movie tutorials for the column:

Click here to view the original power point presentation

p1_Jessica Helmer_001

Here are a few pictures of my P1 model.  All of these pictures were taken at about 11:45am

Pictures of the cast shadows at two different angles (with me holding it up):

p3_Jessica Helmer_001

First thoughts for my final project included wrapping a parametric pattern around a light column. This pattern would be designed to be more opaque or transparent in certain areas.

I haven’t yet decided exactly how I would achieve this. So far my options are:
1) Fractal like patterns, as my previous posts have demonstrated
2) Taking a frame system and squeezing/pushing/pulling certain areas and increasing/decreasing the dimension of the members to create variance in the opening size.
3) Having “fins” in the openings that decrease in size or even go from a more open to closed position on certain areas of the column.

This model from John Locke of SOM (http://gracefulspoon.com) demonstrates this last point, as the “star” in between the frame becomes thinner and thinner as you move from one side of the building to the other:

I then thought about how the light column could merge into the ceiling and continue ideas of controlling and expressing overhead light. The fluid movement from column to ceiling at the Tang Palace in Hangzhou (by FCJC) is one project that demonstrates this:

I could also use a similar idea to incorporate the floor pattern into the design… but we shall see :)

In short, I would like to incorporate ideas from both of these designs into one project.

P2_Jessica Helmer_#001

I decided to continue my investigation into fractal properties for the P2 project. Using branching patterns, I can create areas of higher or lower density by increasing or decreasing the number of times the fractal splits and repeats itself. While I don’t have a specific project inspiration in mind, this image that I found from http://butdoesitfloat.com/ shows an idea behind my concept:

From a polygon plane I used the Interactive Split tool to create cuts along the face. Each successive cut from the bottom to the top has an increasing amount of points in it. The first line (bottom of the plane) has one point between the edges of the square, the next line has 3 points between the edges of the square, and so on…

I then selected the whole object and used the Triangulate tool to create a sort of fractal form. This pattern will eventually be the first screen in the project:

To create other areas and levels of density in the remaining two screens, I copied the first screen, scaled all dimensions by half and rotated the pattern 90 degrees:

I then took this smaller pattern and used the Mirror Geometry tool to create mirrored copies in the X and Z directions:

I then used Ming’s Superextrude script to extrude the first panel to a scale of 0.8 and the second panel to a scale of 0.7. I copied the second panel and used the smooth command with a division number of 2 to create the final panel of my screen.

The three panels, when put together, display differing densities and orientations of the pattern. You can imagine some implications of why this might be. Perhaps the first screen could have structural properties. The members at the top are much thinner than the ones at the bottom (though the members at the bottom don’t appear to be in a very efficient orientation! It’s just an initial investigation after all…). The second and third panels could be for shading purposes. Or perhaps if they were turned 90 degrees, the areas of greater density could hide floor plates.

p1_Jessica Helmer_#001

… Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth …
– Benoît Mandelbrot

I am inspired by natural geometries found in nature. As the above quote shows, many of nature’s geometries are not best described as perfect shapes such as cones, pyramids, cubes and spheres. Rather, natural shapes and rhythms display fractal behavior.

A fractal can be described as “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,” (Mandelbrot, B.B. (1982). The Fractal Geometry of Nature). Thus, a fractal exhibits self-similarity across different scales. A beautiful example of this kind of geometry in nature is the Romanesco broccoli. Looking at the picture you can see how the spiral pattern is repeated at smaller and smaller scales. A multitude of other natural examples exist: leaves, tree branching, lightning, snowflakes, bacterial colony aggregates, our own lungs and circulatory system…

Below are just a couple of links to some amazing natural fractals:

For an animated gif on fractal geometries exhibited in a “perfect” snowflake:

Fractal concepts could easily be incorporated into architecture. Many designers concern themselves with control over rhythm, and expressing an architectural concept from the whole building scale down to intimate details. One could also use fractals to express levels of density (a windscreen, for example, could become more dense in areas where the fractal repeats itself). These areas of density could be used to control light, visual access or simply to create certain “zones” within a space.

A more architectural example can be seen with this project from www.softrigid.com

Here, fractal geometries are used to create a sense of shelter.

Below is a link to a very entertaining video with an interesting description of fractals in African villages (it is too large to embed in the post… 17 minutes long). The first five minutes is a great introduction to fractals. Also noteworthy is at 9:45 when he talks about how an African population uses fractal geometries to create efficient windscreens based on windspeed and height. As height increases, so does wind speed. In order to create a windscreen that keeps out sand, the screen is made more dense, i.e. uses a greater number of increasingly smaller sticks at higher levels on the screen.