Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Ornamented Columns by Michael-Hansmeyer
April 26th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
The Subdivided Columns project explores the use of algorithms to develop a new language of form. The columns are produced using customized subdivision processes. The allure of these processes is that despite using a very simple input, they can produce something that is extraordinarily complex.
In the case of these column prototypes, the input is an abstracted doric column. The process functions by taking each face (or facet) of this doric column and dividing it into four faces. The new faces in turn are further divided again and again, until after many steps one arrives at the final form: an intricate column made of 16 million faces.
Each subdivision step adds further levels of detail (or “information”) to the form. The first steps of the process influence the overall shape and its curvature, the next steps determine the surface development, while the final steps generate a minuscule texture on top of the broader surfaces.
The resulting columns have a distinct language of form unlike anything created by traditional processes. They exhibit both highly specific local conditions as well as an overall coherency and continuity. Their ornament is in continuous flow, yet it consist of very distinct local formations. The complexity of the columns contrasts with the simplicity of the their generative process and the their initial input.
It is difficult to deduce how these forms are created by looking at them. They appear to be come from a different world. Using this computational approach to architecture can – in the best case – create forms that could otherwise not even be imagined.
How can one materialize these forms, i.e. “get them out of the computer”? 3D printers are unable to fabricate objects at such a large scale and at a resolution sufficient to reproduce the column’s surface detail. The shear number of 16 million faces exceeds the capabilities of 3D printing software.
Fabrication of the column prototype instead involved writing a program to slice the output geometry into 2700 individual layers. Each layer was cut out of 1mm cardboard sheets using laser cutters, and these are stacked around a common core to produce a 2.7 meter high prototype. Due to the column’s surface features, the lasers travelled a cutting path exceeding 19 kilometers in length. Despite being partially hollow on the inside, a single prototype weighs an astonishing 650 kg. Further prototypes are currently being constructed using ABS plastic and other composites.
Michael Hansmeyer is an architect and computer scientist who explores the use of algorithms and computation to generate new architectural forms. He currently researches and teaches at the CAAD group at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.