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

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

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.


Applying the Digital Vernacular


In the makeLab, there is a firm belief that form generation alone is  not a viable design solution. Rather, we are pushed to learn from the tried and true practices derived from generations of study and implement them using digital tools. This is what Jim Stevens refers to as the “digital vernacular” and is the basis of a design challenge using traditional, vernacular building types from around the world. The project objectives included a thorough study of the cultural and economic context, skill level of labor, materials, established construction processes, and aesthetic characteristics of each building type. From this study, a digital vernacular detail reflecting the methodologies and ideas was created via digital tools.

For this project, Ryan Asava, a second-year graduate student in Stevens class, studied the Toda hut. This building type originates in the Nilgiri plateau of Southern India, where the Toda people have perfected it for over a thousand years. The Toda people form pastoral tribes, who often leave their huts to accommodate the buffalo grazing periods. As a result, their dwellings are often left unattended, and incur damage as well. The Toda hut itself is a pent-shaped structure created with native materials of lashed bamboo sticks and fasteners of rattaen, the pliable stems of the bamboo stalk. Overall, the Toda hut is a simple, yet refined and extremely effective building type for that culture and location.


The ideas that Ryan derived from this research informed several goals for his detail: simplicity of assembly, ease of replacement, accommodation of same forces, and composition of common materials. He was most inspired by the use of lashed bundles of sticks, the primary component in the Toda hut. The significance of the lashed detail is that it creates a 360-degree fulcrum and resists structural forces in all directions. To apply this, he began to design a singular construction piece by mapping out the X,Y, and Z forces that it would resist. This singular piece, when replicated, would also need to form the arch shape similar to that of the Toda hut.


Through a series of mock-ups, and varying ideas, Ryan created multiple interlocking pieces out of three laminated sheets of  ¼” plywood. The laminated sheets allow for pockets to aid in the interlocking of the members. In terms of forces, the fulcrum created in the piece resists the X forces, while the interlocking of the pieces resists resulting Y forces. The Z forces are resisted by a combination of two pockets and tabs: a tab at the ends of the piece that fits into a pocket of the adjacent piece, and the center (hook) that goes into a pocket as well (see figure below). The pieces themselves are put together using friction-fit joinery, rather than any sort of fasteners, and the only glue used was for the laminating process. Since the pieces are friction-fit, the size and tolerance was very important. Ryan realized just how important it was when he accidentally forgot to compensate for the proper tolerance while cutting his pieces on the CNC machine. This problem was fixed in the post-processing, however, via a Dremel tool to ensure the proper fitting of the pieces. Once put together, the resulting architectural detail was extremely successful in fulfilling Ryan’s original goals.

The significance and success of this project is immense because the fully constructed arch holds a large amount of weight and is truly vernacular in its simplistic manufacturing, construction and native materiality. The singular piece also makes it easy to replace, and requires a low amount of skilled labor to produce and assemble. As a constructed arch, it has relatively low embodied energy largely because plywood is readily available in this region, no metal fasteners are needed, and little post-processing is required. This project proves that a well-designed yet simple piece can have great implications in construction.

In a broader context, this project also upholds many of the principles of the makeLab. We believe that digital fabrication should never be approached with the assumption that a new software or machine suddenly will suddenly create good design simply because it is new. Or, that as a westernized culture, we have the “right” building practices for every location and application. Rather, this project exemplifies that a careful and humble study of other traditional practices, cultures, and history is what aids us in using new tools appropriately. Because a digital tool at the end of the day is just that: a tool. Without the appropriate ideas, research, and historical precedent to apply those tools to, it does nothing.


Dining Chair inspired the wRIGHT way

MakeLab’s role as LTU’s digital fabrication lab found the perfect challenge in the design of a new dining chair for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Affleck House. Designed by Azubike Ononye and Nicholas Cataldo the chair needed to respond to the unique setting of the house. The Affleck House, being one of Wright’s “Usonian homes” which were designed specifically for middle income families, seemed to be the perfect source of inspiration for the chair. One of the major factors that drove the design was the issue of maintaining a low cost while producing something worthy enough of being in the Affleck House. Aside from cost issue, another factor that governed the design was the idea of mobility, which required the design to have a stack-able property.

Based on the requirements stated above, we decided that the chair had to be cut from one sheet of 4’ X 8’ birch plywood and started out small scale on the laser cutter, incorporating the twisting, stretching, and bending properties of plywood explored by Nicholas Cataldo and Kyle Gonzalez in the fall semester of 2011. This gave us the opportunity to explore other potentials and gave us a sense of the structural framework for the chair. It was amazing to see Professor Stevens turn into a mathematics tutor as he was converting model dimensions to actual dimension. That gave us something to laugh about when we discovered that our initial model of the chair had to be tweaked because in reality we couldn’t fit two cuts on one piece of 4’ X 8’ birch plywood, which would have a huge implication on the cost. We also discovered the surface area of the wood cutout was a lot and would have a negative impact on the stack-able character of the chair because of its dead weight. We adjusted our model by removing the arm rests which were initially part of the design, and introduced a slant cut to the legs of the chair to remove some of the dead weight. Another challenge we encountered was double milling the wood piece on the CNC machine. We had to improvise by creating an jig, which was screwed to the machine to avoid a shift in the X and Y axis when the piece was flipped. Then we were left with the metal work which involved cutting the steel tubing, bending it with a tube bender, inserting the stainless steel dowels- at the joints of the chair to ensure firm connection, and finally welding these joints.

From a business perspective one of the great features of the chair is its “value flexibility”. I call it value flexibility because the materiality of the chair can be changed to meet different value targets without changing the design itself. For example, the birch plywood used for the chair could be exchanged for a higher quality piece of plywood, thus increasing the value. So ideally the same design can fit different calibers of clients from lower to middle to the upper class.

In addition, the dining chair design provides us with the opportunity to explore TIG welding and metal works. Thus, the material syllabus of the makeLab was expanded. The makeLab not only utilizes wood, plastic, resins, and concrete but also metal and its related fields.

Slip Casting

Slip Casting is a technique used to produce complex pottery shapes that would otherwise be hard to achieve using any other method. What started as mere interest and curiosity about this subject without any prior knowledge, ended up generating some quite interesting results. Brent started out by inquiring about slip casting, then he decided to get more involved and do his own research about the craft. Later on, after gaining enough knowledge about the system which in turn triggered further interests, he developed a system that enabled him to cast almost any shape with the help of the CNC machine.

It all seems simple, but as Brent realized, the process is quite a time consuming one and has some complex variables. Nevertheless, with deviation from common crafty applications of slip casting Brent went on to experiment with the possibilities of producing custom units/blocks that could be part of a building system, giving them an architectural application. The results so far are outstanding. The custom clay blocks  that can interlock and rapidly to form a cladding system. By taking advantage of the CNC machine, Brent was able to generate any complex form by creating molds for casting. Through this process, the customization of the units became easy to achieve.

Where do we go from here? the The whole process has triggered more questions and paved ways for many opportunities. Brent is considering taking it a step further by experimenting with the slip ingredients and forms in order to produce blocks with greater structural strength as well as blocks that allow for simple implementation of reinforcing or insulating materials. I will be looking forward to seeing the next step.

-Fadi Soueidan


Neil Gershenfeld suggests that the fissure between producer and end-user may be chipped away via increase in awareness and application of personal digital fabrication technology. Ideally, through digital fabrication processes, individuals’ discontent with the conditions of their built environment may possess the means to, without reliance on anachronistic ‘manufacturers’, alter their immediate tangible background.

Theory intact, we may observe a practical complement to this position in some Detroit neighborhoods. Dissatisfied with the condition of these environments, and unable to effectively appeal to a viable top-down prescriptive remediation, more than a few citizens have turned to urban homesteading. Disused lots are transformed into premises of farming, congregation, and living, as envisioned and built by those who benefit. The proposed program, ‘Mass Customized Detroit Urban Homesteading (McDUH)’ identifies this philosophical overlap between urban homesteading and digital fabrication, and aims to develop the necessary tools to facilitate urban Detroit neighborhoods’ increased autonomy in revival, production, and maintenance via digifab processes.

Specifically, the McDUH system consists of a template to analyze existing materiality/ formal conditions, determines the ideal corresponding programmatic uses as converted urban homestead components, and assigns the appropriate digitally fabricated ‘kit-of-parts’ typology to accomplish this adaptation.

-Jake Chidester

Learning Architectural Solutions by Eluding Restrictions(LASER)…..

Restriction is a common term experienced within the professional and academic discipline of architecture. The expression of creativity in design is often hindered by these restrictions and as a result, the makeLab aims to promote and encourage the exploration of possible solutions to this problem. Following my interview with Natalie Haddad, a first year Master of Architecture student, I understood how she solved the makeLab’s need for proper digital fabrication machines for small scale work. The following is an excerpt from that interview:

ME: Of all machines capable of bolstering the digital fabrication process, why did you choose the Laser cutter?

NATALIE: I chose the laser cutter because I wanted to build a machine that would be helpful in rapid prototyping of designs on a small scale.

ME: For the fact that you are not an electrical engineering major, how did you put the machine together?

NATALIE: I found open source plans for building a laser cutter online at Buildlog. The site provided a listing of all the parts needed as well as documentation on how to assemble major components. There was also an extensive forum which helped me to troubleshoot some problems I had along the way.

ME: Plunging deeper into the problems you had to troubleshoot, what were some of the construction problems you encountered?

NATALIE: One of the biggest problems I faced while assembling the machine was that I sloppily soldered the stepper motor drivers onto the board and when I tested them, one caught fire and the other two over heated. Another difficult task was the wiring of the electronics. There is a safety loop integrated within the board. This safety loop controls the amount of power reaching the laser at any given time. Power to the laser will shut off if the cover is opened while the laser is firing, the emergency button is pressed, or if the laser cooling system is not working. The wiring of this connection was difficult but after troubleshooting all the components, I was able to fix the problem and command the laser from Mach3.

ME: Hmm…. Mach3?! What exactly is the Mach3? Is it some kind of software that bridges the computer design to the laser cutter?

NATALIE: Well… The laser cutter runs off of Mach3. For vector cutting, any 2D lines can be brought into a program called Cut2D. The program processes the file and adds to the code so the laser can be triggered on and off during a cut. For raster engraving, Mach3 has a plugin that accepts both bitmap files and jpegs.

ME: if you were to construct another Laser cutter, are there any opportunities you will consider exploiting?

NATALIE: If I were to build a laser again, the first thing I will consider is making the bed larger. The current bed is 12″ x 20″ and it is a 40W laser. I would also make some modifications to the skin of the machine so that it could better adapt to use. For example, better access to scraps that have fallen through the aluminum grate.

ME: Compared to the CNC machine which the makeLab already possesses, is there any major difference?

NATALIE: The laser is a tool that allows designs to be created into prototypes at a smaller scale than the CNC. It also brings new capabilities and allows for engraving, or precision cutting on a small scale.