Architecture Program


Date of this Version

Spring 5-4-2012


“Fixturing” as a concept and practice is applied almost exclusively to manufacturing. Mass production utilizes the fixture to assemble volumes of identical parts into volumes of identical assemblies via holding and locating. This results in accurate and repeatable assembly of parts. Typically, the fixture is only economical when a large enough volume of assemblies exist - a small number of assemblies does not warrant the design and fabrication of a fixture. In this context, the fixture is external from the assembly - that is, the parts do not intrinsically locate and hold themselves within the assembly. It is arguably more cost effective to develop one external fixture and then produce simple parts for use within the fixture. This is suitable for mass production of identical products.

The conventional alternative to mass production is hand production, where each product is variable. Architecture tends to fall more into this category - buildings are more unique and variable in terms of accuracy, repeatability, and specificity. Complexity no doubt factors into this, though mass production can also yield complex products. Digital fabrication offers the potential to economically realize higher variability without the expense of highly skilled hand production. The fixture could further improve economy (and precision) as it removes the need for highly skilled assembly. Given the fact that architecture is usually nonuniform, eternal fixtures are not reasonable. However, if digital fabrication is being utilized to create unique parts, it is reasonable to embed fixturing properties within the parts. Thus, digitally-fabricated self-fixturing parts can be expediently assembled to create unique works of architecture.

Self-fixturing architecture exists between the superspecialized “one-off” and the super-generalized module. The proposed implementation of self-fixturing is to first explore fixturing on different scales. The scales are loosely defined as Scale 0 (a single joint), Scale 1 (an assembly of parts to make a structural member, such as a beam, or a bench), Scale 2 (an assembly of members), and Scale 4 (an entire building).

The gas station has been selected as a typology for a number of reasons, though the intent of the thesis in not exclusively to explore architectural aspects of this typology but to rather explore how fixturing can exist within the typology. The gas station gives a degree of specificity to the design, resulting in a genotype. The genotype is parametrically controlled such that a specific site can inform the parameters in order to create an architectural solution. Moderate span lengths also permits the use of conventional laser cutting beds. The gas station is favorable as a typology given its status as a semi-mass-produced entity, lending itself to “specified mass production.” It is a ubiquitous building type that demands economy, yet could benefit from a higher degree of design consideration.

This thesis, on one level, attempts to inject beauty into the utilitarian. Beauty is of course subjective, but here it is about the “manu-tech” aesthetic, where the process of making is evident in the design, and the parametric flexibility of the genotype allows conformation to site conditions and human needs.

A prominent aspect of the thesis is the idea of designing from the detail up. “The aesthetic of parametricism” can be criticized for its disregard of fabrication and economy. “Parametricism” is not representative of all realms of parametric thinking. A system of details can be resolved with parametric control. This system of details yields a complex yet flexible genotype that can gain specificity given its parametric control.

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