THIRD 3: Build
4.022, SPRING 2019
This semester's final project was both the largest in scale and sparsest in directive. We were tasked with building large-scale inflatables, the primary constraint being that the structure must have two or more active states. This meant that it should not merely inflate and then deflate, but that in its inflated state demonstrate two or more distinct behaviours.
We worked in a team of seven (appropriate credit for images etc. will be given throughout.)
Our final project is a structure capable of adapting its morphology to suit a number of spatial needs. The transformation between states is achieved by means of hands-on manipulations. The project's title, Flow, naturally emerges from the structure's properties: it connotes both the airflow which supports it, and the choreographic flow which defines it.
My contribution initially took the form of creating several small prototype models to test out concepts, allowing us to understand then isolate the target behaviour. In a team, I manufactured medium-sized prototypes, which helped us to refine the geometry which would be most conducive to accomplishing that behaviour while maintaining a strong aesthetic appeal. Parallel to the production of the final structure, I worked on diagramming the project and arranged the logistics for our photographic documentation. Once we had transported the structure to the venue, I recorded video and assisted with photographic documentation.
One thing I really appreciated about this class was the emphasis on high-volume ideation. Consequently, before we split into our respective groups, we were tasked with developing a series of small models that explored potential inflation patterns and behaviours. Over the course of three reviews, we each designed nine prototypes, each set building off the discoveries made by our peers and showcased in the previous session. Isolated behaviours included: modular inflation, branching, auxetic structures, and curling.
Left: curling (credit: Jose Martinez)
Right: modular inflation (credit: Erica Liu)
Right: larger modules (group)
Left: crescent design (group)
Our team considered modular inflation the best avenue for future exploration, leading to our producing a series of prototypes exploring the limits of form and size.
Having isolated our path of inquiry, I proceeded to make a number of smaller-scale prototypes. By doing so, I hoped to gain a better understanding of the constraints and potential of the geometry we were working with. Perhaps the most interesting discovery was made as we relocated the position of the air hole relative to the inner and outer edge of the crescent: the same shape would bend in completely different directions.
Our success, as outlined by the brief, would be contingent upon achieving multiple active states using the same inflatable structure. Our first concept, right, was a programmable object. We thought that it would be interesting to make a structure that people could interact with, and have it define an inhabitable space. As you can see, we imagined that we could program different portions of the structure to behave in different ways.
Upon further deliberation, we came to realise that the shapes did not depend on the hole position, but rather on the cinching (or lack thereof) of the edges of the crescent, which forced it to bend in a specific direction.
With that, the realisation: a single column of air pillows could generate a multitude of forms without being limited by its geometry. Instead of permanently cinching the inflatable, it could be guided through a choreographed sequence of manual manipulations, thereby adopting all of the behaviours illustrated above.
LARGE SCALE PROTOTYPES
By creating larger-scale prototypes, we were able to refine our concept and isolate the best shape for our purposes: the structure should be able to change state, but preferably in such a manner that each state had a deliberate shape (e.g. the vertical wall for the wall in our final product translates directly to the horizontal roof of the teepee). Meanwhile, we refined our production strategy. From sourcing material, to cutting the forms, to soldering the interior seams, to soldering the exterior seams and collaborating to find the holes, it was a highly collaborative and fun time.
We also explored several methods of cinching the balloons. While velcro or hooks were the first methods that came to mind, we ultimately settled on a string. Passed through eyelets on the outer edge of each balloon, the string allowed us to flexibly adapt the tension in the cinch to suit each configuration.
From manufacturing to experimenting: the life cycle of a large-scale prototype.
During the production phase of the final piece, I took on the parallel task of creating diagrams which would represent our project and its development during our final presentation.
The diagrams include:
A diagram illustrating the choreography of the piece as it passes from one state to another.
The different shapes we experimented with over the course of our iterating and prototyping phase.
A diagram illustrating the concept of pinching: greater density is equivalent to more pieces being stacked on one another.
Various cross sections representing the individual states.
A rejected diagram representing my attempt at conceptualising the way the various shapes of the structure fit together, on the basis of reducing the section of each pillow to a triangle, and the plan (of the tunnel) to a rectangle.
The choreography diagram went through several stages of development, highlighted below:
While I was working on the diagrams, the team finished manufacturing the final piece. One surprise we encountered was that holes, which we had avoided while making the smaller prototypes, suddenly became a necessity when we moved to the larger air pump. Without a way to escape, the air would have built up sufficient pressure to explode the structure. Thus, we integrated a series of intentional openings on the underside of the structure.
Images by Jose Martinez and myself.