Optimizations: Material Distributions

This course explores the role of structural optimization methods in design and fabrication problems. In a series of experiments, students will try to materialize and interpret digital structural models through fabrication.

This course looks at the limits of optimization in a seemingly well understood field such as the relationship between structure and formal outcomes. Digital structural models contain many assumptions and simplifications which leave them open to interpretation when it comes to realizing them as tangible objects. The aim of the course is to explore the role of the designer in the creative interpretation of such optimal outcomes.

The course is structured as a series of 4 workshops / experiments combining computational tools for structural optimization that will be introduced and developed specifically for the class with digital fabrication techniques.

Each workshop will start with the introduction of a particular structural system [the stick model, the plate and its reinforcement patterns, the volumetric material gradient], the limitations of its digital simulations and optimization techniques, plus the types of information we can extract from the related analysis models. The students should work in small groups in order to first fabricate and mechanically test simple models, trying to understand the relations between the digital model and the physical object, and then design an object using these techniques in a way that the fabrication and the emergent tectonics become an interpretation of the digital model.

Part of the workshops will focus on the problem of material gradients, which are systems where 2 or more materials are mixed in the mesoscopic scale in order to distribute their properties in a seemingly continuous manner. This has been a challenge for fabrication techniques and still is even with digital fabrication equipment. The students will be introduced to techniques of 2 and three dimensional half-toning and will be encouraged to research new ways of mixing material properties in effect treating the problem of structure as that of designing a material distribution in space.