Digitally fabricated architectural
installation erected in Langford


An architectural installation designed and built by Texas A&M architecture students recently provided an aesthetic, albeit temporary, addition to the first floor accoutrements of the Langford Architecture Center.

The installation, “SWELL,” which debuted July 2, was created by graduate and undergraduate students in a digital fabrication studio led by Gabriel Esquivel, assistant professor of architecture.

“The project discusses both digital fabrication and what’s called affect,” said Ryan Collier, the installation’s project manager. “Right now, in the discourse of architecture, affect is important. The term is a little bit broad at this point, but generally it’s a psychological state, or the architecture’s influence on feeling that’s induced in that state.”

With “SWELL” the students aimed to influence the state of the Langford A atrium, designing, fabricating and assembling the installation consisting of 720 panels made with approximately 14,000 cuts of wood. It is connected at a corner, undulates toward the stairs, and rises back toward the ceiling. Two of its sections spread out onto the floor.

“The form is derived from our research,” said Collier. “We had discussions about different subject/object relationships, and we finally settled on discussing the abject in the development of the form. It was an affectual condition we were trying to achieve, a psychological condition,” he said. “Our research informed our decisions about the project – site, form, systems, lighting, color, etc. – as an attempt to conceptually recreate much of what we originally found in the research in a sort of abstract way,” he said.

As an example, Collier mentioned the mood in a club or an office building.

“The owner of a building never really maintains any agency of control over the affect of a building or space,” said Collier. “It’s always been held by the architect from the initial conception of the project, as opposed to a space’s program or adjacency which changes over time.”

He said “SWELL” is a representation of the design thinking that’s happening at some firms today.

“A few firms are saying, let’s do one piece, one space a certain way, so people can experience it when they want to and it becomes a showpiece for the building,” he said. “Maybe a center beam of something, or a doorway, or the building’s vestibule. It’s an argument for what’s called the small act of architecture, where it’s not the whole building, but it’s something included in the building that makes it an interesting, non-regular space, not used for desks or chairs or anything, but more for the condition of affect.”

As long as it’s accessible by American Disabilities Act standards, he said, a piece such as “SWELL” can heighten a level of interest and increase the value of a space without excluding any distinct user group.

He said it took students two weeks of 14-hour days to design and build “SWELL.”

Students made the panels from several sheets of Masonite using the CNC mill at the College of Architecture’s Fabrication Facility at Riverside Campus, aka the Architecture Ranch.

“Not one single piece was like any other piece, so our method of organizing them that became very, very important,” he said. “We wrote a computer script that allowed us to keep track of and create geometry for all the pieces, which have varying porosities, dimensions and angles.”

The students had originally intended to tape the pieces together, but after testing their materials they saw there had to be a mechanical bond. Each piece needed 12 holes, so students had to drill approximately 8,600 holes through the panels and run twist ties by hand through nearly every single one of them to construct the installation.

Collier said the project launched a new era of student use of the college’s CNC mill.

“Chairs, tables and objects have been built with the mill, but this is the first time students have built an architectural space with it,” he said. “This is one of the things that make the project important for the college.”

The students explored architecture as form, function, and aesthetics using the college’s woodshop and the fabrication facility at the Riverside campus to employ technologies not commonly used together, said Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture.

“This approach allows students and faculty to push the boundaries of what can be imagined, rendered, fabricated, and assembled into magnificent three-dimensional creations,” he said. “There are very few colleges in the nation that have the ability to take an idea from its initial conception to a final product, with technology as the enabler, taking what students can do to new levels in the realm of possibilities.”

Collier said he hopes the project starts a trend.

“I’d like to see the college do more digital fabrication,” he said. “We already have the investment: the professors, the CNC mill, and the Architecture Ranch,” he said. “It really sets our school apart, being able to do projects like this.”

The students, as well as class instructor Esquivel, helped in the fabrication and building process, said Collier.

“Everyone worked at the ranch, everyone sweated, everyone built the project,” he said.

The tasks were distributed among the students;

  • Todd Christensen—coordination of design and construction documents;
  • Nick Gignac— construction documents and details, structural design and fabrication;
  • Ryan R. Collier— project manager. construction documents, 3-D modeling, construction documents and assembly criteria;
  • Chris Gassaway3-D modeling, design, lighting design, and preparation of web and graphic design;
  • Jeremy A. Harperscripting, documentation, detail design;
  • Matt Richardson— plans, construction documents and details;
  • Mitch Rocheleau3-D modeling and design, materiality and costs proposal, video.

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