GENERAL BACK GROUND.
The modern movement taught architects to design the structure first and constrain space to vacant volumes produce in the structure. Computers , energy, new materials and many other cultural factors have contributed to a bigger complexity.
Students that are able to think very complex spaces can sometime feel structure and building techniques constrain their design. When the technical knowledge is smaller than the spatial imagination structural awareness can act as a limit towards design.
Trying to explain basic principles about structure can sometime be boring and unchallenging. This workshop is design to use design skills to understand structural problems. This practice is design to allow students to understand structural phenomenon intuitively and experimentally.
Most of the structural workshops for architects based in fabrication tried to isolate a single phenomenon.
In most of them the students start from scratch. Regular examples are producing a beam for an specific load with timber (winners are those supporting bigger loads with less weight) or with spaghetti. Pedagogic approach is, therefore, deductive.
Another classic workshop has been designing a shelter for an egg so that it prevents breaking when the egg is thrown from a big height. This workshop is closer to what we are going to do in the sense that the structural behaviour that can appear are not predetermined, but are difficult to relate with the students personal work and design.
Our workshop starts with existing objects with complex structural functioning. The methodology is, therefore, inductive.
We propose the students to work with:
A BICICLE WHEEL.
A PHOTOGRAPHER TRIPOD.
ANY OTHER INDUSTRIAL (THEREFORE OPTIMIZED) OBJECT WITH A COMPLEX STRUCTURAL PERFORMANCE IN CASE THE STUDENT JUSTIFY IT HAS A RELEVANT RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS/HER OWN DESIGN PORTFOLIO.
Each student will choose one object. The object selected by the students:
Must be used as structural testing model for particular and complex element in the student design.
Will most likely change its regular structural performance: tripods can be the model for a cantilever or can be combined making cones, umbrellas can form domes or canopies, bicycle wheels might be place horizontally and support perpendicular loads.
Can have any particular scale relationship with the design of the student: might be understood as a one to one bit or as part of the one to six model or big element radically expanding the spam.
The relationship between the testing object and the student design must be established in a first diagrammatic drawing. The students will then analyse the consequences that the new performance is introducing in the objects. Students are invited to describe the likable failures of the structure through diagrams: would it blend before breaking?, which would be the weaker pieces?, how much deformation would it admit before collapsing?, which would be the load making the element break?. The hypothetical failures must be drawn carefully. Students need to be specific in their hypothesis. Useful suggestions for establishing the failure modes are:
+ look in the internet for descriptions of structural behaviours (tension, compression, buckling, bending moment, hyperstatism, isostasim).
+ look in the internet for classic ways of describing structural failure or structural performance: deformation diagrams, description of week points, loads itinerary, bending moment diagrams. Try to apply this description to your object and to the particular position it has acquired in your design.
+ try to be as specific as possible. It is better to be brave and bet that a tripod normally supporting 4kg will break if it is placed horizontally and supports 6 kg than not to be clear with your hypothesis.
Once you have prevented possible failures of your structure design a reinforcement or include any additional elements of your design that, according with your hypothesis, will help structural performance or will prevent failure. The goal of the day is to produce a material reinforcement of the object so organize yourself not to loose more time than necessary in drawing.
Useful suggestions are:
+ look in the internet for structural strategies use to improve structural performance: redundancy, capacity design, combination of material with different stiffness, buckling belts or bracing are all possible examples.
+ it is important to build the reinforcement in one day. Meeting the deadline is compulsory. So before thinking in fabricating things or laser cutting every element think in the amazing amount of materials and elements you have around. Keep in mind we are paying attention to structural behaviour: elements with apparently different shapes might have a similar structural behaviour.
+ look to existing architecture trying to understand the structural roles of different elements.
+ beware and record the behaviour of your sample while you are working. Have always a camera with you and take picture of bending, deformation or unpredicted structural situations.
Design a text to prove the efficiency of your reinforcement. Most common structural test is adding loads. You have to find a rigid support, the possible loads and prevent security issues. Make sure you have a camera to record the test.
The students must subject the reinforced object to the planned test. A structural consultant will then help her/him to understand structural phenomena, to describe it and to improve the structure with a new iteration and further suggestions. Structural consultant will help the student understand whether his/her initial hypothesis were right or wrong. Students presentations must be organized as performance. A good example can be the testing of Buckminster Fuller dome in Black Mountain College.
AFTER WORKSHOP WORK.
Structural analyse is one of the strong points of Unit 22 portfolios. All students are invited to describe the experience of the workshop with carefully drawn analytic diagrams. We invite the students to introduce the conclusion of the workshop in the portfolio under the tittle of ‘failure modes’. Which is the conceptual approach of these failure modes?:
+ The student won’t have to pretend he/she is able to calculate the complex structure she/he is dealing with but has prevent failure and possible reinforcement.
+ The student is not trying to convince the panel everything is totally solved but shows he/she understands structural behaviour and is able to prevent failure through design.
+ The portfolio gains in experimentalism and gives the proper intellectual value to failure.
+ Students are reinforced as they discover they can trust their structural intuition if they explore process in detail and pay real attention to what might not work.
+ Structure does not simplify complex design but can be strategically design to meet complexity.
Costa Rica workshops will continue with this exploration but will combined elements in more complex structures.