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

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