ARCHITECTURE@MIT: More than objects

Pavilion project tackles smart design and construction for the future

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The Kerf Pavilion creates spaces to sit and enjoy quieter moments on campus.
brian hoffer

The Kerf Pavilion, unveiled near the Green Building in the beginning of July, has piqued many curious minds on campus. Here, team members Tyler Crain, Brian Hoffer, Chris Mackey, and Dave Miranowski discuss the significance and motivations of their project.

The Tech: What is the concept behind this project?

Tyler Crain: We were given the task to design a temporary pavilion structure that would address an architectural fabrication problem in a new way. When we sat down and discussed ideas, we agreed that it should be something that would generate some physical interaction with people, and that we should work with a traditional material in a new production method. In the fabrication process of furniture and other small-scale products, techniques such as vacuum forming, steaming, lamination and mold-making are common. We were looking at simpler, less labor-intensive ways of forming this natural composite. Kerfing is a common technique for bending plywood that has been used in many industries for years. It involves the removal of material at points where a radius is desired (typically run over a table saw with a shallow depth). We were able to utilize tools that would scribe precisely calibrated radial dash patterns in a way that could convert flat sheets into something spatial and regain strength through the assembly.

TT: From conception to final product, can you estimate how many hours the team spent on the project?

TC: Oh, plenty… My rough, ballpark estimate is just over 1000 hours with all four members combined.

TT: Why is the Kerf Pavilion unlike any other space on campus? What was your goal for how the community should experience it?

TC: I think our goal of how people should use it is exactly how people are using it. Perhaps sometimes they are not quite sure what it is or why it is there, but in the end, they’re naturally going to sit on it, play board games on it, eat lunch, read, and climb on it (some neglect to read the sign). I think that line of dirt in the otherwise grassy courtyard can say a lot about the project’s value. As for comparing it to other spaces on campus, I would simply say that it is a much more intimate, quiet moment within a vast majority of much larger, louder spaces on campus.

TT: What does the Kerf Pavilion mean for the future of design and construction?

TC: There is a very lively discussion in the architecture world regarding the future of digital fabrication, emergent qualities, and material/part intelligence. The ultimate goal I think is to remake the way we make things. As architects, we are responsible for an enormous amount of resource distribution and it is crucial that we get a little more intelligent about the way we design, manufacture, and construct.

Brian Hoffer: Beyond the specifics material and expressive qualities of wood, our pavilion suggests an alternative future. A future where more expressive designs are affordable and buildable because of CAD/CAM technologies.

Dave Miranowski: The Kerf Pavilion project taught our group an important lesson on how technology, specifically the CNC Mill, can allow you to engage more closely with physical materials, breaking down notions of a divide between digital processes and the material world. Due to the controlled precision of the mill, we were able to run through rigorous physical tests to see how different Kerfing patterns affected the bending capabilities of the Baltic Birch plywood we used.

Chris Mackey: We found through our experience that we are not quite at the point of software capability where we can make any change to the geometry of an object and have all of the boltholes and kerf lines readjust. However, we found that we still had a lot of freedom and that we could make tweaks to, for example, the height of our structure or the width of seats and have all the final information output well. The ability to change and adapt the model to new criteria is a huge benefit that I think will only become more helpful in the future.

This is the first of a two-part Q&A series spotlighting two campus pavilion projects designed and built by MIT Master of Architecture students. Also be sure to head over to the blogs at for the extended interview!