ARCHITECTURE@MIT: More than objects

Architecture students imagine ‘semi-permanent’ spaces beyond the usual white tents

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The Framework Pavilion, designed and built by architecture graduate students Robert White, David P. Moses, Barry Beagen, and Trygve H. Wastvedt, explores the idea of semi-permanent spaces on campus.
robert white

This is the second of a two-part Q&A series spotlighting two campus pavilion projects designed and built by MIT Master of Architecture students.

The Framework Pavilion near the corner of Mass. Ave. and Vassar St. was designed and constructed by architecture graduate students Robert White, David P. Moses, Barry Beagen, and Trygve H. Wastvedt. The Tech had a chance to sit with White to discuss the significance of Framework and what we can expect from architecture students in the near future.

The Tech: What is the concept behind this project?

Robert White: The driving force behind the project was to develop a process that allows a designer to quickly go from envisioning non-standard geometries to producing a full-sized structural object. Our goal was to create a way to shield the user from some of the difficulties in moving from a digital design environment to a manufactured product by incorporating a malleable yet buildable structural system while also automatically outputting the files necessary to cut all the individual parts on a CNC machine.

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

RW: We began this project as part of a class taken during IAP 2012, although we continued to work on it throughout Spring 2012. Many months were spent refining the design and developing the necessary software and scripts. The powerful thing about the project is that once we had the digital toolset running it took far less time to produce the built structure than would normally be the case. It took about one week to cut all of the pieces, both the wood posts and the steel bases, and another week to assemble the final structure in its current form. With the work of creating the digital-to-built process behind us, we could now produce a series of structures with very different shapes relatively quickly.

TT: How is Framework different from the Kerf Pavilion, and how is it unlike any other space on campus?

RW: The projects share little in common. Although they were both designed as an investigation of fabrication methods with wood, the Kerf team exploited the layered nature of plywood to generate curvature within surfaces. Framework operates by taking smaller pieces that attach to each other with a structural joint and aggregating them to create a larger whole. We feel that these projects begin to talk about the idea of the “semi-permanent” spaces on campus — small projects that can be quickly designed and built to serve MIT community events yet, unlike the white tents that currently pop up at special events, speak to MIT as a place that values not only utility but also creativity.

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

RW: Both Framework and Kerf really show that the divide between design and manufacturing is quickly shrinking. Although we used a fully digital process, everything from the software to the machines was consumer grade. The tools that we have created enable one person to design, manufacture, and construct a complex structure out of common materials quickly and cheaply. We also devised a simple yet powerful labeling system that gives each post a location within the larger assembly and tells which other pieces connect to it. Rather than having to rely on a set of construction drawings, the logic of assembly is coded into each piece, which means that anyone can start putting together pieces within five minutes of being shown how to read the labels. No longer is construction limited to those with many years of experience.

TT: How long will Framework and Kerf be around? Will they survive cold weather?

RW: We hope to keep both projects up as long as Mother Nature will let us! We’ve designed the projects to weather a proper Boston winter so we hope to see them make it through until next summer. If the projects last until then, the current schedule is to begin disassembly around late spring/early summer.

TT: Are there any new large-scale architecture projects the campus can look forward to in the near future?

RW: As far as student-built designs, the class that these projects came from will be continued this IAP 2013 and, as it stands now, we hope to see one or two new and exciting projects somewhere on the MIT campus before long.