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.


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