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This thread is an account of the makeLab’s research on the topic of stereotomy. The project began in August 2016, and since then we have constructed 4 manual trait drawings, 2 fabricated vault forms and maybe 70 Grasshopper script iterations that use a combination of Kangaroo Physics, Kangaroo 2, Paneling Tools and Weaverbird.  During a portion of the project, (January – July 2017) Jim was on sabbatical at Polis University in Tirana, Albania on a Fulbright Scholarship where he worked on a branch of this project with students there.  Though distance was a factor, articulating the goals of this research became crucial to progress primarily because scope altered as understanding grew. For this reason, the below posts range in scale from meeting notes to weekly updates to summaries of months of work at a time.


Explanation of work from 08.2016_09.2016

This is the first blog post in a series of many updates of our research on the topic of stereotomy. The first few posts will just be recapping what we have accomplished so far.

“Stereotomy, which means the cutting of solids, was a seventeenth-century French rubric under which were gathered several existing techniques including stonecutting…” (Evans p179). The basis of stonecutting was the trait. Traits were orthographic layout drawings produced to ensure the precise cutting of the stone blocks that comprised a gothic vault. Traits are created through two inputs – a site and a plan- to produce one output: coordinates of each corner of each block in the vault.

To discuss stereotomy, its important to note that the subject is inherently a revolving process. Its not a linear system (which has made it difficult to put into a GH script) but instead looping. As inputs create outputs and then those outputs inform new inputs, the process is a revolving feedback loop of information.  In order for inputs to be manipulated, not only the steps have to be understood, but more so the motion between them. The definition is something that can be easily found, but understanding the system includes realizing the instincts that informed every decision when it was first being developed.

The first step in this particular system is the reoccurring iteration of perception. Before progress is made, a student’s interpretation of the process needs to be repeated. There is no opposition to the notion that in order to study a process, the concept and priority behind it must be understood. Instead, the discrepancy lies with the length of the required depth to understand. The first step takes time, because there is no way to understand a lack of understanding, until the process is complete.

This research is centered around the application of these trait drawings to modern algorithmic programming. Our first step was to learn the process through a trait for a trompe that was pretty well explained in Robin Evan’s chapter of the “Projective Cast” called “Drawn Stone”. The trompe was an important piece in the overall project because it shaped the way we thought about overall form and the way smaller elements aggregated to form a larger whole.  The conceit of the trompe was to infill a space sectionally in such a way that allowed circulation below it and served dwelling within it.  As Evans states, “justification for the employment of difficult traits was that they allowed architects to adapt to circumstances, making it possible to join new building to existing construction…” (Drawn Stone, 183).  The trompe was studied through our modern system of analog methods: by putting multi-axis 2D drawings in parametric workspace (Rhino 3D). This allowed us to visualize the moves that the trait was designed to two-dimensionally represent: rotation, folding and projection.

Figure 1 (above) is an original trait drawing from the 16th century: 15-20 drawings are superimposed on top of each other in 2D. The second image is how we solved this trait, with help from Evan’s explanation.


Figure 2  (above) shows how we solved this trait to find a specific face of the trompe, which is pictured below (Figure 3) with the found face outlined.  Figure 1 and 2 are showing the same result with different processes. Figure 2 utilizes a parametric work space so that the steps in the process are more easily seen and understood . The hybrid process that Figure 2 shows was our first step in developing our own manual method to later put in a Grasshopper script. It was completed in September 2016.

Figure 3. The trompe: the subject of both traits.


Explanation of work from 09.2016_12.2016

Our second study of trait-making focused on a portion of the gothic rib vault in the Chartres Cathedral in France. This work was done with help from the students of the Fall 2017 Intro to Digital Fabrication class at LTU. The plan for the project, beginning in September 2016, was to (a) develop a trait for the vault, (b) develop a Grasshopper script of that trait method and (c) let the script generate blocks to be milled on a CNC. The vault was completed in December 2016 and stood about 7’ tall. The vault was collapsed in February 2017 and took about 45 minutes to clean up. Multiple findings arose from this project that all exposed our lack of understanding of the true use of a trait. It became clear at the completion of this research phase that it takes a full iteration – from manual trait to script to physical blocks to assembly – to tweak a student’s understanding of the stereotomy definition. We reached our main goal for the project about a month after we started it, which was to feed the manual trait method into an automated script, which then produced blocks for us in digital space. In real space, producing the blocks with a CNC uncovered the true difficulty of that process: how do we make blocks efficiently through digital fabrication?

Below is the manual trait we developed for the panel of the Chartres Cathedral and fed into a Grasshopper script.

Below is the partially-assembled panel made from the Grasshopper script and RhinoCAM.



Update 01.10.2017

When we finished the Chartres Cathedral vault panel, the project became confused. The Chartres Cathedral is a known vault form made with bricks in a known configuration. The gothic rib vault did not need a trait and it did not require us to design a brick pattern or a form. The bricks were simply stacked- they did not have a configuration that required coordinate finding. We grouped the bricks and created blocks, but that was not true to the form. At the time, we did not understand the difference between finding a form and finding a block, and for the Chartres vault panel, we found neither.


Explanation of work from 01.2017_05.2017

After the Chartres vault phase, Jim and I started working on separate portions of creating a vault. Jim was experimenting with forms in Kangaroo 2 and I was developing a manual trait process for a vault defined by site constraints of a specific spot in the makeLab. My process focused on finding the blocks manually with 2D drawings in Rhino, and Jim’s process focused on creating an overall form through Kangaroo and Grasshopper. Now looking back on those separate processes that started in February 2017, Jim and I have since realized that we conducted that phase of the research backwards – with me doing block finding manually and Jim doing form finding through automation.

View from left of the finished trait in a parametric workspace

However, this trait led us to conversations about the cross section of a vault. For the manual trait, I set up a framework of compressive parabolic boundaries in Rhino: 3 parabolic curves stretched to the ends of the site constraints, and then tilted up to form a 3D outline of a vault. A plan was created based on precedent.

Boundaries in plan before parabolic curves are tilted 90 degrees

From there, a trait was developed that was heavily reliant on visualization. Because we created the trait in a parametric workspace instead of a 2D one (on paper) but we were still only using lines (rotated, projected and folded), we were able to see the process unfold – a system of instant assurance that we had made the right move mid-step. It was an advantage that the 12th century masons and architects didn’t have and one that was unique to our process – the advantage of visualization. Utilizing parametrics to manually solve a method that is only comprised of 2D drawings was a hybrid system of traditional knowledge and modern tools.

3D view of the trait with 3 of its 6 orthographic projections. At this stage, we had found 5 of the 15 blocks.

In the terms of it structurally staying together, we speculated that as long as the panel of blocks stayed within the “thrust line” of its boundaries, the vault would stay together. And because a vault does not technically have just one thrust line – in reference to Philippe Block’s dissertation: “Thrust Network Analysis: a method for understanding three-dimensional funicular systems”- we had wanted to test its structure through making instead of through digital analysis since the structure was so small and virtually risk free.

Finished vault in the site it was designed for.


Update 06.23.2017

Phase 4/ script for parabolic boundary curves with a circular cross section

This phase is currently underway, and it has Jim and myself sending scripts back and forth and trying to decide on the system that the script will follow. A script has been built for a half-vault with parabolic outline curves with a circular cross section (below)

For the purpose of illustrating concept of script

The initial idea was to make the circular cross section, semicircular and tangent to the parabolic curves, but then the question arose of whether it would be more accurate to study this idea of  “could any form that is a result of compressive boundaries – whether or not they are the same mode of compression – still hold up?” with a circular cross section instead.

We are wanting these forms to be framed by curves that we assign, and then filled by interpolation from Grasshopper/Kangaroo. From the beginning, we have wanted to define these sections through the vault with actual section cuts (being as that was how traits were able to be understood). The hard part is staying true to that while working with such intuitive programs. It is so easy to let Kangaroo do the form-finding for you, however, we now think it makes seemingly obvious sense (now that we have reached this point) for us to form find and Kangaroo to block find.


Update 07.12.207

P4/ script with concentration on openings in the vault

We are not sure if our result is going to be an architectural piece, an exploration of dry stone and tolerances, or something else entirely. In accordance with that, we are going to make our next script with the ability to create openings, whether they will be under the syntax of “windows” or “reliefs in the composition of forces”.

Working under the trait method gave us our values/parameters/constraints that we do not want to disobey or venture outside as we manipulate our method enough to feed it into a Grasshopper script. The “multi-axis 2D drawings in a parametric work space” manual method cannot be translated linearly into an algorithm – it is too reliant on visualization. However, the priorities the method helped us reach could become the core focuses of the algorithm, and those were about explorations through cross section in working with openings in the vault.


Update 08.03.2017

P4/ block finding vs. form finding

Throughout the iterations of traits, we have learned that we need to make the distinction between working on block finding and working on form finding. There are curves/contours that are easier for the hand to draw then for us to use a computer to draw, such as organic or natural lines (ie. illustrators using tablets and a stylus for drawing cartoons instead of a mouse).

Stereotomy is definitively “block finding”, but we are thinking that with today’s tools, it is best to take a step back from us doing that. Our logic is this: block finding is either right or it’s wrong – so, a computer should do that. Form finding is subjective, and in this case, responds to site constraints – so, a human should do that. Not only should a human form find, but we are wondering how it would work to do it around a site that is not man-made. If we are making the case for drawings, and delineating form-finding a task better suited for a human than a computer, would it make sense to form-find around natural constraints, like a shelter for an animal that also receives sunlight?

So, we chose a bunny

and then used Grasshopper to assign a parabola to every cross section curve

and then used the inherent shape of the bunny to allow light in behind the “ears” and achieve this form.

Next step is giving it blocks.


Update 08.29.2017

P4/ line, surface, block

The previous script was comprised of too many cross section curves: one every 2.3″. Since a goal for that script was for the blocks to be about 2.5″h x 2.5″w, that resulted in the U component for the MeshUV command to be equal to 1. In doing that, we had too much of a hand in block-finding (the UV mesh grid), and when assigned blocks to be fabricated, the blocks did not output correctly. Now that this is understood, we are revisiting a script that initially introduced the idea of lofting cross section curves that are not the same, but are all compressive. This script was created after the manual trait + vault from Phase 3 was completed, and we realized that the manual process focused on the cross section of the vault. An advantage of this script is that where we last left it, the lofts were far enough part for the mesh to be properly relaxed by Kangaroo and fully adhere to the section curves.

Goal for script: through editing section curves, each block is updated. If a line is edited, and that affects the surface between lines, which causes every block on the surface to update, then the user is working with a CAD-like interface to produce results that push the limits of Grasshopper/Kangaroo.

The edits to the vault will hopefully become very easy to understand, document and manipulate.

Digital Shingling – Romania 2015

Post by: Andreea Vasile

There is a rich and tested way of designing and building structures evident in vernacular buildings in every region of the world.  These buildings have been built for hundreds of years and are still built with the knowledge of craft from their predecessors. However, in the post-digital world these traditions have been diminished by a desire for new form making over new processes that build on the craft tradition. This dilemma has informed the research to seek new ways of blending the use of digital technologies, while preserving tradition.


The Presidential Undergraduate Research Award made possible for me to focus my research on the craft tradition of wood shingling in Romania. The initial explorations were further developed during a one-week workshop in Bucharest, Romania where nine students from Lawrence Tech collaborated with five students from “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism. The workshop was hosted at Nod Makerspace, a newly open studio in a former cotton mill, where artists with different backgrounds practice their work. We felt extremely welcomed there, and the similarities between their work ethic and ours provided a perfect environment for conducting our research in that space.


As a precedent, we visited the National Village Museum “Dimitrie Gusti”, where we analyzed the different types of traditional wood shingling. After identifying certain conditions that each one of the students was interested in, we faced the challenge of making them using digital fabrication. The various explorations and iterations drove us to the outcome – a prototype that responded to most of the set limitations but also took advantage of new digital tools.  We identified that by using parametric software we could modify each shingle to respond to most shapes.  Editing the script allowed us to limit our shingle fabrication to three shingle types varied by shape that controls the shingles ability to curve along a surface.


Using the prototyped shingles the students spent the final 2 days of the workshop fabricating the shingles on the CNC from solid pine boards.  The shingles assembled into a final prototype that demonstrated the potential for the process.








Tools that Stay – Albania 2015

Post by: Brendon Veldboom

The objective of my research project was to better understand the tools used in digital fabrication, and to build a digital tool at LTU to take to Polis University in Albania. Once I received the Presidential Undergraduate Research Award, I began to educate myself on the many different ways I could go about designing a 3 axis computer numerical control (CNC) tool. I conducted a literature search, read digital fabrication blogs, and sought out the expertise of the people around me in the makeLab and professors at LTU.

The design process of the CNC machine began with hand sketching in a notebook, and a digital 3D model using Rhino software. The digital model constantly evolved over the first few months until it reached a point where I could begin prototyping the machine. I started by milling components out of medium density fiber board with hours of cutting, testing, revising, and re-cutting. The time spent prototyping paid off during final production, which went efficiently.


The most difficult task of the research project was figuring out the logistics of actually getting the machine to Albania. It was a constant tug of war between maximizing the cutting power and size of the machine, and also being able to fit within airline restrictions (the only affordable shipping option). The machine also had to be extremely reliable since the availability of replacement parts is close to nonexistent in Albania.


The machine was designed, built, broken down, packed, and flown across the world to Albania for a digital fabrication workshop in the beginning of July 2015. The next 12 days were spent educating students on the machine, going through the computer programs needed to run it, and eventually running the machine. 15 students from both Lawrence Tech, and Polis University ran the machine for more than 30 hours without any problems. The machine was then left in Albania for future students to use.

The research grant turned out to be a twofold learning experience for me. I was able to educate myself, and successfully build an advanced tool that now opens up design opportunities for students in Albania. Facing the challenges of designing, prototyping, and building the machine gave me great respect for the tools we have at Lawrence Tech. The second learning experience was the workshop itself. Watching the Lawrence Tech and Polis University students be introduced to digital fabrication and the amazing projects that came out of the workshop was exciting to see. This research project was invaluable to my education but more importantly, it has helped educate others and will continue to do so.

Concrete + rubber bands

Fig 1

By Josh Thornton, Brandon Pawloske, Marc Hopkins and Eric Meyers

Initiating the concrete + rubber band project, the group decided to look at concrete flexibility based on changes to the mix; such as replacing water with liquid latex, and casting rubber bands within the concrete. After allowing the concrete to cure, the casts were subjected to bending stress tests and while the idea of replacing water with latex made the cured casts very brittle, the rubbers bands added a degree of flexibility that lead the group into different, smaller tests regarding rubber band layouts and their relative strengths when keeping the broken concrete in position. After finding a grid pattern of bands that worked, the team began to question the typical ways that concrete is used, and developed a rubber band grid that allowed ample flexibility. From there, the group worked on creating a mold that would allow easy and quick reproduction of modules by creating a tool to quickly apply concrete to the new surface by spraying onto it.

Fig 2


Integral to the manufacturing process was the idea of casting a module with rubber bands in it, breaking those casts on specific break lines, and finally using those new modules to form our wall. Due to this process, a sizeable amount of time was used in the development of a mold that was reusable, and allowed for quick and easy setting up of the casts with strung rubber bands and placed inserts for our pre-determined break lines. After quite a few iterations, a final mold was developed that allowed over 8 casts to be produced per day, and reset within a reasonable time even with only one or two people working the molds.

Fig 3


The second major task that was decided as a necessity to the project was the development of a shotcrete gun. After researching the available commercial stucco sprayers, an initial design was agreed on and prototyped using a garden hose handle and PVC piping with minimal success, but was quickly iterated with a second design that also held marginal success. The final iteration, which ended up being very similar to the first, ended up working very well and sped up the application process of the concrete to our test modules quite significantly, while remaining extremely inexpensive adding a high design value.

Fig 4

Assembling the wall was quite the task. While the first course of the wall was easy to lay out and support, the remaining courses to lay down were troublesome. The development of a framework was not completely thought out, and looking back, a processes of using the CNC machine to cut out an exact form that acts as support for the wall would have been a much better route to take. The framework that was created was attempted to be used, but did not end up helping the process in any way, and a make-shift supporting element was used to help support the 3rd, 4th, and 5th courses of the wall during construction.  Success thorough failure was the lesson of our formwork.

The design of the wall was conceived in a way that could display the strengths of the concrete modules, allowing them to curve in multiple directions (without a series of complex molds), and also remaining thin, strong, and freestanding. Construction went relatively quickly when supporting elements were determined, as well as the use of pre-combined modules that improved the strength and stability of the wall during construction. Finally, spraying the wall with concrete throughout the construction process increased the strength further, and allowed for one side to have a relatively smooth finish, while the other displayed the modules and broken grid patterns.

Fig 5

Fig 6


Fig 7

Tools That Stay


It was only a couple of years ago when we built our first suitcase CNC and took it to Albania.  Since then, we have shifted our focus to tools that stay, as apposed to tools that travel.  Our second CNC machine is now in Kosovo with a third installed in January at Sushant School of Art and Architecture in New Delhi, India.  As our focus shifted so did the technology.  The first suitcase CNC was built for the rigors of travel.  It was in a hard roadie case and required almost no setup.  This allowed for minimal time as we moved from workshops to demonstrations in multiple locations.  When tools stay the requirements change but the idea of maintaining the tool becomes the challenge.  We shifted the design from one that was nearly fully custom to one that was almost entirely open-source.  CNC tools were installed this summer in Bolivia with the International Design Clinic (IDC) and in Albania at Polis University using the ShapeOKO design with the new tinyG control board.  The tools are now able to be maintained by the host institutions with the advantage of open-source knowledge and components.  We benefited immediately in Albania from this support community.  The tinyG control board, the hardware and the control software had communication issues.  After a couple of days of troubleshooting the tinyG forums assisted the makeLab and the students at Polis University in Albania in resolving what was only a minor firmware issue.  This first hiccup was the perfect test for a support network that is necessary in emerging regions that do not have the “benefit” of a service contract for digital equipment.


The ShapeOKO was modified this year to use a larger router for cutting dense material and with larger aluminum rails to increase cutting size.  Both tools also have the advantage of upgrade.  With the evolving open-source design, students and faculty can update components cost effectively as the technology changes.

After troubleshooting, the tool ran smoothly in Albania with the students able to produce projects within the first few days.  Four student projects explored different avenues of digital fabrication.  One project studied material performance through removing “lines” of material and heat bending extruded PVC along a digitally cut “jig”.  Others saw potential in surfacing material that would interact with the landscape, creating a connection between soil, plants and geometry.  Joint taxonomy and transparency were also explored leveraging the tools ability to cut precisely when needed but allowing for improvisation in the final form.

We look forward to 2015 when we can install more digital tools!



UTLC Ceiling

Lit Panel
UTLC Ceiling
By Elliott Disner, Shannon Iafrate and Anthony Kadzban

When approaching the design for the ceiling, the group immediately set forth the rule that the existing space needed to inform the design; the ceiling needed to complement the space, not fight it or simply occupy it. Recognizing it is underdeveloped and intruded by surrounding common areas, the first decision responds to the needs of the space. A solution that can increase intimacy and decrease cross traffic noise was reached by implementing a responsive ceiling that lowers the head height and absorbs noise. The next decision was the concept to utilize a system comprised of multiple panels that react as a form to the space parameters. The shape of the panel was determined by the existing space as the glass block wall, adjacent acoustical ceiling and carpet all utilize similar geometry. In order to maintain balance with the existing space, a square was chosen as the panel shape.


A large part of the design process was spent prototyping the fabrication of panels. To maximize sound absorption, a double layered system was selected. Each module is comprised of a perforated wood panel (layer one) to diffuse unwanted sound waves and backed by felt (layer two) to absorb the sound waves. A large amount of time was spent sourcing felt, testing the size of the perforations, and exploring joints to connect the felt to the back of the panels. Many prototypes were created and discarded for weak joints or inefficiency in either assembly, mill time or material waste. The most effective solution pushed the corners into four perforations and secured in place using a friction fit dowel connection.

Once the individual panel was designed, the focus was the overall form. The main considerations of the existing space were the shape, recessed lighting, fire suppression system, and function of the space. The varying heights of the ceiling respond to the needs of sound absorption and intimacy. The movement and wrapping of the shape responds to the subtle widening of the space and the overhead fire suppression system. To maintain clearance, the form wraps around over three foot-diameter that encompasses the sprinkler head. A Grasshopper script including these parameters was written to facilitate efficiency in generating the layout and panel size. With the panel and form shapes solidified, the panel size was determined by the individual panel and the overall form. The size and spacing parameters were adjusted to find an ideal solution that minimized the amount of panels without compromising the overall form.

Overall Day

The jig was developed by being cognizant of both efficiency and design. A minimalist look ensures the impact of the design is felt through the panels (joined to dowels with a single nail), while a simple glued connection between the dowel and jig panels was thought to maximize installation efficiency. The jig is fractured into smaller puzzle pieces that form a whole, allowing for a manageable installation and allow for the passage of light and water. The jig also minimizes impact on the existing ceiling, as it is installed with two inch corner brackets, one flange attached to the metal stud, the other receiving a bolt on which the jig rests. This allows the installation to be removed so the space can be returned to its former state.

As a result of numerous prototypes, the fabrication process went relatively smooth. The construction of the panels was repetitive production and any issues had been worked out in the prototyping stage. An unforeseen issue, due to not being able to prototype the installation process, occurred when flipping the assembled jig panels. The dowel-to¬-jig joint was strong in compression or tension, but the joint was not strong enough to hold against the torque experienced when flipped. The solution involved drilling the pocket hole completely through the jig, inserting the dowel through the hole, and fixing a small finish nail sideways through the dowel which acts as a pin, prohibiting the dowel from moving back through the hole. This creates a strong joint against compression, tension and shear forces. Following the modification of the joints, the panels were inserted with minimal issues. After the installation was complete, the panels were straightened, the space was cleaned, leaving only the final installation.

Glass Block

Panel Field

Overall Night

Mud + Laptops – lessons from India


The makeLab’s 2014 India workshop successfully concluded January 11, 2014 in New Delhi.  Four students attended the workshop from the makeLab at Lawrence Tech along with 10 students from our host University, the Sushant School of Art and Architecture.  Together, we explored the design and construction of masonry dome structures covering material explorations, digital form-finding techniques, generative and algorithmic design. The students were forced to think beyond the now conventional unidirectional digital-to-physical workflow to methodologies that explore ideas of contingency, tolerance and error, which allow digital tools to interact with the “messiness” of manual fabrication and non-industrial materials.



To accomplish the complex form of the dome Prof. Ayodh Kamath developed a Rhino script capable of not only determining each masonry units placement in the dome but one that would work in unison with the mason.  A domes plan, when changed from the geometric primitive of the circle, presents multiple formal challenges: First, the dome could not be built by a mason using the standard reference points and mortar-makeup that allows for experienced “by eye” construction.  The brick units did not follow a pattern recognizable to the builder, architect or mason.  The script was no small task given that most scripting is done with the assumption of form finding as the primary goal and not as a tool to interact with a tradesman on-site.  The script therefore required that the mason place each masonry unit with a center measurement taken from three stationary points.  This data would be called out, entered into the script with the result being the top two corner measurements from the stationary three points.  Once the mason and the architects found their cadence the process moved smoothly determining the angle of each unit.


Our second challenge was to use digital tools to perforate the dome by milling portions of the bricks surface away to allow light. To do this, the makeLab needed to build a new suitcase CNC (our 3rd).  This new machine was capable of cutting traditional Indian mud bricks and was transported via checked luggage to our host City and its new permanent home at Sushant.  The machine and the process was successful but came with significant challenges.  The bricks, made by hand, were not standard.  The 6x12x3 inch blocks could deviate as much as 2” in any direction.  The density of the bricks could also change depending on where they were located in the pile, the amount of direct sun they had received or simply by the humidity.  During the milling process we also uncovered foreign material in the clay such as plastic bags, glass and bangles.  These variables are not something normally encountered in digital making but we found them liberating, forcing us to improvise or more precisely – to practice India’s Jugadd innovation.  The project grayed the lines between the craftsmanship of certainty and the craftsmanship of risk.   Masonry units where designed digitally, milled digitally and modified by hand afterward or at times during the milling process.

DSC07449 mockup

The workshop and its context in India has reaffirmed the makeLab’s position that digital fabrication’s potential lies within the vernacular and lessons of the past.  India gave us intense fluid actions at all times that at first glance seemed like chaos, yet with closer examination we realized it was only movements forward.

Photos by makeLab, Prof. Steve Rost and workshop participants 

Digital Vernacular Workshop at Sushant School of Art & Architecture

India Trip

The makeLab will conduct the Digital Vernacular workshop  from January 6-11, 2014, at the Sushant School of Art & Architecture (SSAA) in Gurgaon. Participants from LTU, and SSAA will conduct a critical analysis of digital fabrication and associated emerging technologies for architecture.

This workshop will explore the design and construction of masonry dome structures covering material explorations, digital form-finding techniques, generative and algorithmic design. In the workshop students will be forced to think beyond the now conventional unidirectional digital-to-physical workflow. Students will be introduced to design methodologies that explore ideas of contingency, tolerance and, error, which allow digital tools to interact with the “messiness” of manual fabrication and non-industrial materials.

Participants will engage with generative design software coupled with the digital fabrication hardware of the suitcaseCNC system. The suitcaseCNC is a fully functional 3-axis milling machine costing under USD 1000, designed to fit into a rolling case approved for easy transportation across the world. It was designed and built without the use of experts with low cost, non-proprietary components.

This workshop will be conducted by Professor James Stevens and Professor Ayodh Kamath of LTU. Professor James Stevens established the MakeLAB as a digital design and fabrication studio within LTU. The MakeLab has taken the suitcase CNC to workshops around the globe – in Albania, Kosovo, and France, Turkey, and Bolivia, and now to India. The suitcase CNC is a vernacular digital fabrication tool that can be built and modified by its users. Digital Vernacular skills are thereby developed through the machines portability and its ability to “act” and “teach” in a vernacular way. MakeLab has set out to seize this opportunity by disseminating its knowledge and practice.

Professor Ayodh Kamath is a graduate of the SSAA and is now a faculty member at Lawrence Tech. He researches design and construction at the intersection of the manual and digital. Specifically, he looks at how the latest design and construction technologies can learn from and collaborate with vernacular traditions to produce a socially and ecologically relevant architecture.

Click here for more information

Winter Pavilion


The Winter Pavilion
By:  Breck Crandell, Jad Chedid, Michael Neal

The pavilion was born out of a list of goals. For the group, it was their very first endeavor with digital fabrication.  They were familiar with makeLab and its projects, but unfamiliar with the tools, processes, and software. Taking existing skills (hand craft, energy, and ambition) and limitations (digital fabrication experience, time and finances) into consideration, the group set the goal to create a space that provided coverage for smokers during the winter season.

The original pavilion designs were so complex that given the time constraints at hand, there would have been no chance of success. After a mid-semester review, it became painfully clear that the design needed to be simplified. The initial discussions aimed to create standardized pieces held together by unique connections. Trial and error showed that standardized shapes would inevitably lead the project to look as if formed by a repeating pattern. So, in order to achieve a dynamic design, the team opted for the inverse: unique pieces connected by a standardized connection.

Responding to financial constraints, the team began a material search. In a classic scenario of being in the right place at the right time, the group was granted permission to salvage a storage unit worth of materials which they were encouraged then to reuse and repurpose. The connection pieces, fabricated using the CNC, are reclaimed acrylic scraps from a project elsewhere on campus. The only material purchased was a fabric-like material that was waterproof, weather-resistant, and durable. At the suggestion of Professor Stevens, the group took a risk and ordered an economy-size roll of plain white Tyvek house-wrap.


The general idea was to trim down reclaimed lumber to a manageable size of 2×1” boards which were used to create geometric frames. They took advantage of newly developed software skills in a program introduced only weeks ago. Each individual frame that formed the pavilion was designed and modeled in Rhino. The Tyvek was then stretched it across the frames to create unique geometric shapes that would form an organic whole. The result was a “happy accident.” The Tyvek succeeded in all the necessary parameters, but it also engaged extremely well with light. When backlit, the material revealed figural transparency. In early prototypes, they realized that silhouettes of figures within the pavilion would be projected through the walls.  The hinges were another “happy accident” because the acrylic material was formed from recycled milk jugs giving them a frosted white color that absorbed and reflected light, complimenting the aura of the pavilion.


Due to the size and scale of the project, the team entered a repetitive production mode which incorporated a healthy balance between digital fabrication and physical labor. The bulk of the work was done in a familiar and comfortable fashion by hand with tools that were well known. Meanwhile, use of the unfamiliar CNC was optimized to give the most value for the least amount of runtime. This meant that two-thirds of the group constantly built frames while the remaining member always fabricated connection pieces using the ShopBot CNC. Altogether, production all of the necessary pieces of the pavilion was completed within ten [±] days.


During the assembly process, multiple issues were encountered. Assembling an eight foot tall and twelve foot long wall within a room with a seven foot door left the team trapped. Dismantled and moved, it was during the reassembly process outdoors that it was first realized large amounts of fabric stretched taut across frames built a massive kite. In a desperate effort, the studios of Lawrence Tech were searched to recruit any able-bodied student willing to brave the cold. A barn-raising ritual ensued, and the four walls were erected in a matter of hours. Due to the cold and commodity of time, volunteers left and the team was left alone to complete the pavilion. After donning Carharts and braving the coldest all-nighter to date, the pavilion was completed by sunrise. Within hours, word had spread and smokers throughout the university migrated towards their new-found shelter.


POLIS 2013 workshop

Post by: Nicholas Cataldo & Christopher Davis


This year the makeLab workshop at POLIS concentrated on demonstrating the visceral connection between thinking, making and doing.  Utilizing 3d software, parametric opportunities and a suitcase cnc machine the students, were able to directly translate the digital into something realized physically.  Making allowed the students to directly identify design challenges, build on iterative success and learn from failures.

Professor Jim Stevens and four students travelled from Lawrence Technological University to Universiteti Polis in Tirana, Albania.  With them, they brought a 3-axis milling machine, knowledge of parametric design and fabrication techniques.  The four LTU students and ± thirty Polis students were divided into four teams with the challenge of completing four separate projects on one machine in six days.  The project was quite simple.  As a team, design digitally made formwork capable of producing blocks to build a wall. The unit could be singular or a set of units that could modulate as a whole to achieve an overall volume. Teams worked together utilizing several different platforms and techniques to accomplish this project.  Teams used Rhino and Grasshopper; writing scripts to develop their design, to define their project.  Some teams defined modular units that would aggregate together to achieve unity in the built wall.  Other teams focused on porosity, experimenting with positive and negative volumes. All teams found a unique path to address the project in its context.  Several tests were then performed by all teams on the CNC machine. Understanding the level of detail and clarity of surfaces became important to fully understand the capabilities of this specific machine.





Hours upon hours of milling time ensued on the CNC machine to finally complete the molds for all the teams. The most beneficial part of mold making has everything to do with mass production.  This allowed the teams to be able to reuse the mold in high amounts with relative ease. Taking proper precautions in preparing the molds was crucial in order to achieve enough uses to get the amount of final blocks to complete the wall. All teams were able to overcome machining time, mold preparation, casting conflicts, and final preparations to come together and have an exhibition in the gallery space at Polis.



Down Time

We worked in studio Friday-Sunday breaking up the workshop into two weekends.  When we were not in studio we were exploring the country.  Learning its vernacular conditions, context and forces that create place.  With the pleasure of two Kosovarian students and one Albanian student, both of whom studied at LTU, we had our own personal tour guides during our stay.  We traveled literally almost across the entire country exploring traditional and new environments, experiencing different towns, enjoying new foods and meetings wonderful people.  We developed an idea of place and context as we ventured to the coast and to the inland mountains; from the north to the south.  This directly ensnared us into social, urban, architectural, political, cultural and locational perspectives.  We were able to experience both micro and macro conditions of Albania through the students we worked with, through the locals we interacted/socialized with and through the country as we traveled.  We had an incredible experience.


When we reflected on our journey we realized a huge undertone in all this.  DOING, the spirit behind makeLab.  Nothing we did could have been accomplished in any other way but to DO IT.  The workshop, the experience, the travel, the culture, life, design, it’s all a discipline that requires multiple iterations and hands on experience, making and doing.  Simply a fantastic, enriching workshop and opportunity.