Intro to Stereotomy

(explanation of work from 08.2016_09.2016)

This is the first blog post in (what we hope!) is a series of many updates on our research with 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, it needs to be noted that the subject is inherently a revolving process. It is not linear (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 the process to be manipulated, it must be very precisely understood – not necessarily the steps, but more the motion between them. The definition is something that can be easily found, but understanding this 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.

The first image is what traits looked like when they were 100% necessary: with 15-20 drawings superimposed on top of each other in 2D. The second image is how we solved this trait, with help from Evan’s explanation. The two images are showing the same process, yet the second is utilizing today’s tools to find the same result. This was the first step in developing our own manual method to later put in a Grasshopper script and it was completed in September 2016.


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