Architecture Design Fundamentals I: Nano-Machines

Instructor(s): Skylar Tibbits

MIT Course Number: 4.112

As Taught In: Fall 2012

Level: Undergraduate

Course Description

This is the second undergraduate architecture design studio, which introduces design logic and skills that enable design thinking, representation, and development. Through the lens of nano-scale machines, technologies, and phenomena, students are asked to explore techniques for describing form, space, and architecture. Exercises encourage various connotations of the “machine” and challenge students to translate conceptual strategies into more integrated design propositions through both digital and analog means.

Syllabus

Course Meeting Times

Studio: 2 sessions / week, 3 hours / session

Studio Overview

This studio aims to develop and further our understanding of architecture through the lens of nano-scale machines, technologies and phenomena. The Nano-Machine will become an apparatus, a device, a system and an architecture for understanding inputs, processes and outputs that can lead to the creation of space. Three primary engines of drawing, making and spatial investigations will be employed to elaborate on that theme. Different connotations of the “machine” such as an analogy, a system of working, and a device for decision making literally and conceptually throughout each project will be explored. This course is specifically designed to play off of the students’ non-architectural undergraduate classes by introducing a domain of investigation through which a dialogue can be created to span multiple backgrounds and applications. This studio will investigate the notion of self-assembly/self-replication/self-repair/self-reconfiguration and other such phenomena present at the nano-scale and explore contemporary spatial design possibilities through new developments in nano-robotics, DNA origami, synthetic biology, medical devices etc.

We will investigate the Nano-Machine with three projects:

  1. Critically investigating the act of drawing by developing processes and templates that will allow students to reveal the internal logic of the subjects they study—i.e., “The Drawing Machine.”
  2. Investigating the drawings as devices capable of shaping 3-dimensional physical objects and systems. The students will cast a series of constructs employing additive, subtractive and combinatorial operations—i.e., “The Making Machine.”
  3. Creating space by examining notions of the solid and the void, inside, outside, scale, context—i.e., “The Architecture Machine.”

Detailed descriptions, schedules, and deliverables for each of the projects are available under Assignments. Samples of student work from the Fall 2012 studio are available under Projects.

Students should also be able to engage with an increasing level of design research through iterative studies and move fluidly between different modes and scales of operation. Conventions of architectural representation and communication through drawing and modeling should be engaged with clarity and intention. Students will need to demonstrate basic application of design skills, understanding of architectural conventions, and ability to sustain an increasing level of research in the projects over the semester. Completion of each of the exercises, rigor in process and clarity in representation, as well as the overall progress of the semester will be fundamental factors in the final evaluation.

Required Resources

A variety of tools and software are available for the design process, which includes form exploration, modeling, and producing drawings. For Project 1, students will be asked to use Processing, an open source programming language, to develop digital generative drawings. Over the course of the studio, students are encouraged to develop their abilities in modeling their designs as well as producing representations and drawings using Rhinoceros®.

Evaluation Criteria

The following criteria will be used for the evaluation of your work, both in terms of helping your progress and in final grading.

  1. Thesis: How clearly are you articulating your conceptual intentions?
  2. Translation of Thesis: How well are you using your thesis to develop a spatial and architectural response to given problems?
  3. Representation Appropriateness: How well-matched is your choice of representational means to your intentions?
  4. Representation Quality: How accomplished are you with drawing, modeling, digital representation, etc.? To what degree do your representations convey what they ought to?
  5. Oral Presentation Skills: How clearly are you presenting your ideas orally, whether at your desk, in class discussions, or to a more formal jury?
  6. Participation in Discussions: How actively and how constructively are you involved in class discussions, both formally and informally?
  7. Response to Criticism: How do you effectively take advantage of criticism from instructors, your classmates and outside jurors?
  8. Auto-Critical Skills: To what extent are you able to critique your own work regularly and effectively?
  9. Attendance: Attendance for the full duration of each studio is mandatory. The studio is an exceptional learning environment that requires your physical presence as well as your intellectual presence. You are allowed three excused absences for the semester. Absences beyond the three allotted will result in a decrease in your final grade. If you miss six or more studio classes, you will be asked to drop the subject or receive a failing grade.

Grading

Project grades will be assigned according to the following:

  1. Excellent—Project surpasses expectations in terms of inventiveness, appropriateness, verbal and visual ability, conceptual rigor, craft, and personal development. Student pursues concepts and techniques above and beyond what is discussed in class.
  2. Above Average—Project is thorough, well researched, diligently pursued, and successfully completed. Student pursues ideas and suggestions presented in class and puts in effort to resolve required projects. Project is complete on all levels and demonstrates potential for excellence.
  3. Average—Project meets the minimum requirements. Suggestions made in class are not pursued with dedication or rigor. Project is incomplete in one or more areas.
  4. Poor—Project is incomplete. Basic skills including graphic skills, model-making skills, verbal clarity or logic of presentation are not level-appropriate. Student does not demonstrate the required design skill and knowledge base.
  5. Failure—Project is unresolved. Minimum objectives are not met. Performance is not acceptable. This grade will be assigned when you have excessive unexcused absences.

Studio Culture

Work in the studio will build sequentially. Therefore, commitment to incremental development on a daily basis is of paramount importance. Charrettes before reviews will not suffice. The demanding nature and pace of studio courses necessitates regular attendance and requires that deadlines be consistently met. In addition to lowering your grade, late work will prevent you from following the overall structure of the course. It is important that you take advantage of the studio environment. Magnification of your development as a designer is made possible by the collective nature of the studio. Working in studio, instead of at home, will allow you to participate in the dialogue of the studio setting. Group reviews are collective for a reason, as each student has something to gain from peer students.

Calendar

Detailed schedules for each of the projects are available under Assignments.

WEEK # TOPICS KEY DATES
Project 1: “The Drawing Machine”
1 Research + Analysis
2 Building Logic Research Document Presentation
3 Digital Drawing Machine
4 Processing Drawings Project 1 Interim Review
5 Final Review Project 1 Final Review
Project 2: “The Making Machine”
6 Developing 3D & Solid/Void Pinup for First Pass at 3D Translation
7 Mold Design & 3D Printing
8 Casting Project 2 Interim Review
9 Drawings—Plans/Sections/Axon
10 Final Review Project 2 Final Review
Project 3: “The Architecture Machine”
11 Growing Architectural Space Guest Lecture and Presentations with Tomás Saraceno
12 Developing Program + Social Provocation & Building Models
13 Developing Space, Models, & Program Project 3 Interim Review
14 Drawings—Plans/Sections/Axon
15 Project Development
16 Final Review Project 3 Final Review

Readings

The following readings introduce the concepts of programmable matter and machines, as well as offer precedents from research across a number of disciplines.

 

Tolley, M. T., M. Krishnan, et al. “This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Advances Towards Programmable Matter.” (PDF) Proc. Int. Conf. Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences (2008): 653–5.

Knaian, Ara. “Design of Programmable Matter.” M. S. in Media Arts and Sciences Thesis. MIT, 2008.

Knight, T. F., and G. J. Sussman. “This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Cellular Gate Technology.” (PDF – 1.0MB) MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (July 1997).

Vacanti, M. P., and C. A. Vacanti. “Biological Scaffolding Material.” U.S. Patent 7,319,035. Filed October 17, 2003 and issued January 15, 2008.

Buy at Amazon Aranda, B., and C. Lasch. “Cracking.” In Pamphlet Architecture 27: Tooling. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005, pp. 53–7. ISBN: 9781568985473. [Preview with Google Books]

Buy at Amazon Rothemund, Paul Wilhelm Karl. “A DNA and Restriction Enzyme Implementation of Turing Machines.” In DIMACS Series in Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science (27). American Mathematical Society, 1996, pp. 75–120. ISBN: 9780821805183.

Rothemund, Paul Wilhelm Karl. “Folding DNA to Create Nanoscale Shapes and Patterns.” Nature 440 (2006): 297–302.

Griffith, Saul Thomas. “Growing Machines.” Ph.D in Media Arts and Sciences Thesis. MIT, 2004.

Buy at Amazon Aranda, B., and C. Lasch. “Introduction.” In Pamphlet Architecture 27: Tooling. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005, pp. 8–9. ISBN: 9781568985473. [Preview with Google Books]

Buy at Amazon Mitchell, William J. “The Logic of Architecture: Programming the Invention of Physical Artifacts.” In Logic Programming: The Joint [9th] International Conference & Symposium. Edited by Krzysztof Apt. MIT Press, 1992, pp. 831–46. ISBN: 9780262510646.

Penrose, L. S. “Mechanics of Self-Reproduction.” Annals of Human Genetics 23, no. 1 (1958): 59–72.

———. “This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Self-Reproducing Machines.” (PDF – 1.5MB) Scientific American 202, no. 6 (1959): 105–14.

Lee, Kiju, and Gregory S. Chirikjian. “This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Robotic Self-Replication: A Descriptive Framework and a Physical Demonstration from Low-Complexity Parts.” (PDF – 1.4MB) IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine 14, no. 7 (2007): 34–43.

Buy at Amazon Aranda, B., and C. Lasch. “Spiraling.” In Pamphlet Architecture 27: Tooling. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005, pp. 12–3. ISBN: 9781568985473.

Buy at Amazon Von Neumann, John. “This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.The Role of High and of Extremely High Complication.” (PDF – 1.5MB) Chapter 4 in Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata. Edited and completed by Arthur W. Burks. University of Illinois Press, 1966, pp. 64–73.

Buy at Amazon ———. “This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution.” (PDF – 1.5MB) Chapter 5 in Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata. Edited and completed by Arthur W. Burks. University of Illinois Press, 1966, pp. 74–87.

Assignments

Project 1: “The Drawing Machine”

Description, Precedents List, and Schedule (PDF)

The first project investigates the premise of “drawing machines,” by looking at precedents of nano-scale technologies and self–assembly systems. These precedents will be broken down into a series of “logic diagrams” exploring the fundamental elements of the precedent and investigating questions as such: why it works, how it works, what is it used for and how it can be translated into an abstract series of rules. Next, students will develop a series of digital generative drawing “machines” in Processing that take on the underlying logics of their precedent.

Project 2: “The Making Machine”

Description, Fabrication Details, and Schedule (PDF)

The second project focuses on the theme of “making machines”—or a system/process/device/apparatus for physical products or the production of other “machines.” This exercise will translate the templates of the previous exercise into spatial constructs capable of producing physical objects/solids/voids. The students should consider the question: how their precedent and logic translate into a system for physically producing models? The students are required to cast plaster, within the delineated space such that a series of spatial requirements be met. The produced cast objects will then be carefully investigated by means of horizontal and vertical cuts. This project poses the question of translation from drawing to material objects, by having a specific theme and a series of spatial limitations as delineating elements that will allow the further development of their case studies from the first project.

Project 3: “The Architecture Machine”

Description and Schedule (PDF)

The final project investigates the process of creating space, that of “architecture machines,” utilizing the students’ precedent studies and the machines they have produced in the previous two projects as tools that will allow them to establish relationships between different elements and develop design strategies in an architectural context. The students will revisit their drawings from Project 1 (2D drawing) and their systems from Project 2 (3D drawings/physical models) in order to develop a spatial drawing (axonometric), which will then be modified to take into account spatial constraints. Students will build a series of abstract models realizing the spatial potential of their generations demonstrating material, solid, void, inside and outside. This project questions how architecture can be understood as a machine, and how the processes of working through drawing and making, along with the theme of Nano-Machines can become a generator for space, circulation and social/programmatic provocation. The axon, physical models, plans, sections and diagrams will be emphasized in this project in order to translate an idea into an architectural proposition and understand the intentions and consequences behind basic design decisions.

Projects

This page features selected student works from the studio. Documentation for each of the three projects includes a variety of precedent background, drawings, renderings, and photographs of models. Processing sketches, which develop dynamically and are interactive to mouse-overs and mouse-clicks, are also included for Project 1 as part of the students’ productions. Video demos of the sketches are provided in addition to the executable and code.

TOPICS / PRECEDENTS PROJECT COMPONENTS
Project 1: “The Drawing Machine”
Black lines forming general outlines of rectangles and some interconnectivity on a white background.Processing sketch with logic simulating the transformations of mesenchymal cells. EMT Variations in Cancer

(Courtesy of MIT Student. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF)

 

Video Demo of the Processing Sketch

 

Processing Code (PDE)

Executable for Windows (ZIP)

Executable for Mac OS X (ZIP)

Executable for Linux (ZIP)

Fine, short black lines that show feathering around three circular clusters on a white background.Processing sketch with logic simulating clusters of hexagonal and branching networks. Viral Capsid Self Assembly: Hierarchal Pair Construction

(Courtesy of MIT Student. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 1.0MB)
Network of black lines with some clustering around polygonal shapes on a white background.Processing sketch with logic simulating the Belousov-Zhabotinsky Reaction through drawn lines and network points. The Belousov-Zhabotinsky Reaction

(Courtesy of Juanita Ballesteros. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 1.0MB)

 

Video Demo of the Processing Sketch

 

Processing Code (PDE)

Executable for Windows (ZIP)

Executable for Mac OS X (ZIP)

Executable for Linux (ZIP)

Groups of black lines, clustered in three longer and thicker strands on a white background.Processing sketch with logic simulating the process of chitin synthesis. Chitin and Butterflies

(Courtesy of Lina Kara’in. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 2.9MB)

 

Video Demo of the Processing Sketch

 

Processing Code (PDE)

Executable for Windows 32-bit (ZIP)

Executable for Windows 64-bit (ZIP)

Executable for Mac OS X (ZIP)

Executable for Linux 32-bit (ZIP)

Executable for Linux 64-bit (ZIP)

Clusters of webbed white lines drawn on a black background.Processing sketch with logic simulating how a spider web reacts to a point of stress. Spider Web Deformation

(Courtesy of Tiandra Ray. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF)

 

Video Demo of the Processing Sketch

 

Processing Code (PDE)

Executable for Windows (ZIP)

Executable for Mac OS X (ZIP)

Executable for Linux (ZIP)

Project 2: “The Making Machine”
Photograph of twisted tentacle-like extensions from a flat base.Model of cell transformations as oxygen concentrations vary in the z-direction. EMT Variations in Cancer

(Courtesy of MIT Student. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 1.4MB)
Photograph of gray stacked discs in multiple bundles.Model of branch growth shown through cylindrical branches and nodes. Branching Out

(Courtesy of Marianna Gonzalez. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 3.0MB)
Project 3: “The Architecture Machine”
Photograph of faceted, clear plastic around a darker core.Final model depicting spatial relationships between labs, CO2 collection chambers, and vortex rings. CO2 Accumulation & Conversion

(Courtesy of Anonymous Student. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 9.0MB)
Photograph of bundled, white clear tubes against a black background.Final model of branch growth using plexiglass plates and rods. Branching Out

(Courtesy of Marianna Gonzalez. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 7.5MB)
Drawing of vertical branches with horizontal divisions of spaces and contour lines on the branches.Section drawing of the branched spaces with partial submersion in water. Chitin and Butterflies

(Courtesy of Lina Kara’in. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 1.9MB)
Thumbnail_Ex3_CR.jpgSection drawing of inhabitable spaces formed by packed volumes and their intersections. Packing, Volume, & Density

(Courtesy of Christiana Rosales. Used with permission.)

Documentation (PDF – 41.2MB)

Download Course Materials

This package contains the same content as the online version of the course, except for any audio/video materials and other interactive file types.

Download here.

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