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Joshua Eckert

Jan 05, 2016

The Node
Three dimensional printing is bringing forth a new method of constructing ones own imaginary
ideas. This new method of printing has allowed designers to build and test computed models without
complicated plastic molding technology. This progress in technology has created developments in health
sciences, jewelry, art furniture, architecture and personal design. Architects like Davide Sher are even
using alternative 3D printing methods to create housing out of sustainable materials such as dirt.i Other
designers like Irina Shaklova and firms like VULCAN are creating artistic achievements in interactive art. ii
Today architects, artists and designers are beginning to use 3D printing to design in ways unimagined
by previous generations.
3D printing has actually existed since 1986 when Charles Hull invented stereolithographic.
However this process took months and thousands of dollars.iv In the last 30 years of development 3d
printing has become an accessible and affordable method for prototyping that has even allowed entry
level designers to create prototypes in their schools and homes. For most this hasnt reached the scale
of full size houses or massive sculptures, however it has allowed for a new wave of inventing and artistic
designs. Out of interest of 3D computer modelling and printing students in and out of design schools
have begun to fall into this group of designers constructing prototypes. These designs and projects are
at such a scale that they are being prototyped in small affordable 3d printers. Whole design could even
be constructed out of a series of simple repeated, small scale components.
The question that arises is how can 3D printing improve on the world of architecture? Ideas of
printing whole houses and eliminating labor intensive work are immediate ideas that have become of
interest to designers. But why do designers need to print bigger when 3D Printing could already provide
advancements using Small Scale Repetitive components. Some of the finest examples of architecture,
such as the spaceframe system and the GeoDome came from designs using repetitive components,
however the architectural masterpieces that would greatly benefit from 3D printing arent these ground
breaking discoveries, but the designs that emerged from them.
Deployable structures are creations that use complex prototypes in order to obtain movement
and accessibility. These designs can fold upon themselves and create shelter using flexible fabric skin.
Although some of their base designs have been around since 1800s in the form of small devices and
folding chairsv it wasnt until the last century that these deigns began to make their way into
architecture. Due to advancements in modern technology such as 3D printing these designs will begin to
introduce complexities that allow for new movement and capabilities in deployable structures.

Deployable Architecture
Deployable architecture has been used throughout history in circumstances where humans
didnt have permanent dwellings. Early examples are as simple as tents and tipis used by the Native

Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016
Americans and early Nomadic people. Designers only have begun integrating these attributes into
modern construction over the last century; however it was the 1950s where advancements in
deployable structures as the aerospace industry began to merge with
One of the most important steps in deployable
architecture comes from an architect Richard
Buckminsters geodesic domes. The original dome design
was constructed in 1954 and is considered the lightest,
strongest, and most cost-effective structure ever devised.
(Ament 2006) By 1957 this remarkable spherical building
was finished construction 22 hours after the arrival of the
first parts.vii Some of Buckminsters designs used a
combination of pneumatic cylinders and tension cables to
allow quick and easy construction. Although Buckminsters
Figure 1 Buckminster's Geodesic Dome (Expo 67)
designs arent considered deployable by todays
standards, they were ahead of their time and were a major influence of deployable architecture.
Buckminsters designs are still around today and similar deployable designs are even sold by the
company North Face as outdoor shelters.viii
Arguably one of the most important of deployable
designs came from an international competition held in London
In 1961. Architect Richard Buckminster would influence another
genius mind in deployable structures. The competition theme
Transportable theatre inspired Architect Emilio Perez Pinero
won a special mention for his Three-Dimensional Deployable
Scissor Grid. This project was made reality in 1966 and was
initially introduced in Plaza De Maria Pita A Coruna, Spain.
Transportable theatre weighed only 40 tonnes and could cover
8000 square meters with only a single center support required.
The design consisted of intersecting scissors of four arms made
of aluminum bars and interlocking hinge joints. Emilio Pinero
Figure 2 Transportable Theatre
would further improve on his own designs in order to be
constricted of scissors of three arms by using pins mounted in coplanar positions.ix
In the late 1960s Expo 67s creative America theme became a host to a two of the worlds
major influences of deployable architecture. Richard Buckminsters 20 story Geodesic Dome, which
represented USA in Expo 67, may have triumphed in popularity, however it no longer stood alone as a
lightweight, inexpensive design on a world scale. x The Space frame system which he helped developed
became a popular design that used in the Expo by multiple countries. Both the Netherlands pavilion and
the Canadian Man the Explorer design were constructed using repetitive steel framing components to
allow for flexible, large display spaces.


Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016
One of the most spectacular buildings from
Expo 67 was able to maintain the design intents of the
spaceframe pavilions without the labor required to
weld the spaceframe system. The West Germany
Pavilion designed by Frei Otto introduced a tent like
structure that allowed for adequate lighting and a light
roof structure weighing only 140 tonnes. It also was one
of the fastest constructed designs of the Expo, with a
construction time of just 6 weeks. This structure was
also capable of covering an entire city block using
Figure 3 West Germany Pavilion by Frei Otto
tension cables and a meshed net roof covered in a plastic skin. This design was able to adequately
manage twin problems of aesthetics and economics while reducing construction time. The design was
also adored for its ability to adapt to the irregularities of any site which
would allow the design to be seen once again in the Munichs 1972
Summer Olympicsxi

Figure 4 Alan Britt 'NASA Type Cubic'

The studies of 1970s led another genius mind had entered the
world of structural morphology. Haresh Lavani began working on
topology and symmetry transformation. However it wasnt till the
1990s that his work would be heavily recognised and transformed into
Mechanical Geometry. In 1997 Alan Britt used his findings from
Hareshs studies to produce a deployable truss structure for NASA. The
NASA Type Cubic allowed for various types of movement depending
that varied in capability whether a rigid or collapsible components was
used during assembly. The design that was created by NASA played
with the combinations of 4 of its major components. ...the team
develops a four-letter notation (t,b,v,d) that corresponds to the four
structural components grouped in a cubic cell. The first letter (t)
corresponds to the top horizontal members, the second (b) to the
bottom horizontal members, the third (v) to the vertical members and
the fourth (d) to the diagonal members the notation describes
whether the member is rigid (r) or hinged (h). The system when used
in symmetry allows for a greater compactness and generates solutions
to critical design issues such as; strut and node morphology and
deployment path geometry. xii

The 1990s led to many inventive designs for the world of deployable structures. In 1992 Prof.
Zalewskis Venezuelan pavilion was constructed in Venezuela, where the costs were cheaper and then
unfolded quickly in Sevilla where the Expo 92 was hosted. The system was comprised of Crane hoisted
prefabricates truss expanded while suspended in midair, then set in place for temporary exposition
siting. After the Expo the structure was once again collapsed and could be reconstructed at another site.


Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016
In 1996 architects Felix Escreg, Juan Perez Valcarcel and Jose Sanchez revisited and revised
Architect Emilio Perez Pineros temporary theatre design. The Deployable Cover for San Pablo
Swimming Pool used the X-frame system to span over an Olympic sized pool; however unlike Emilio
Pineros design the support column was no longer necessary. The thirty years
between Emilio Pineros project and Escrigs pool cover allowed advancements
in hardware which allowed a much wider deployment then three- and fourarm scissor structures. Escrigs new connection allowed for the skin to hang
from the interior structure to reduce entanglement during assembly which
assembly, and storage.xiii
In the early 2000s Architect Maciej Piekarski have
begun expanding on Zalewskis Venezuelan pavilion and
Escregs Deployable Cover by combining the theories to
create the Two-Way-Fold Trusses. This new design allows
for the ability to deploy in both directions while still being
constructed out of ridged components. The Two-Way-Truss
success comes form, rigidity and stiffness that makes up the
geometrical forms. The base unit was created of four
parallelograms and if joined with identical units, forms a flat
structure capable of expansion in multiple directions along
the same plain, however if the base unit is slightly modified
the structure can create cylindrical expansions.xiv

Figure 5 Felix Escreg

Deployable Cover

Today Deployable structures are continued to be developed in order to

improve on older techniques. New designs are being constructed for practical
applications such as temporary structures, pavilion designs, camping trailers, and
even Disaster victim relief. xv Structural Morphology is a art which will continue to
grow in efficiency as technology allows for advancements in structural design and

Cube Efflorescence
The core of the Node came from a beautiful design created in the fall of 2014.
The project later titled Cube Efflorescence was created as an exploration of both
material studies repetition of design. These explorations allowed me to see how a
simple design can create a beautiful creation. Cube Efflorescence was created by
building a single component out of 2 replicated pieces then intersected and repeated
until it began construct a transformable unit. In its neutral state the object
resembled a cube; however, once manipulated by the viewer the cube could stretch
out and become cylindrical or even a pyramid shape. The result was something
elegant and full of potential. Once again, the project grew from repetition and as
other cubes were connected, a simple and elegant project became something alluring

Figure 6 Joshua Eckert

Cube Efflorescence


Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016
and fascinating. The Cube Efflorescence became something that could be repeated and expanded
many times over, changing direction as it continues.

Designing the Node

Cube Efflorescence was a theoretical design that was repeated
to create a system that could be mass produced using laser cutting and
easily assembled. Through physical models I could create a beautiful
system that captured the viewers attention. In search of a way to
create Cube Efflorescence into a real scale structure I attempted to
reconstruct a thin wood system in ply-wood components. In theory the
ball joints on each end along with the pin joint in the middle would
allow for the same movement as the original design; however, the
project quickly began to create problems and reveal its true
Figure 7 Joshua Eckert Cube

Figure 8 Yan Chans and Zhong Yous

Deployable Structure Based on
Bennett Linkage

The problems of the Cube Efflorescence design began early in

the reconstruction phase as a full scale model was constructed. Once
the single full scale unit was built, I began to understand that this design
was not one that I could simply scale up to form a structure. The
original project was built at such a small scale and was made of flexible
pieces, making it flexible and light. Quickly this began to create
problems as the full scale required a ridged large component which
required a very specific assembly and added a large amount of weight.
As I analysed the project I realised the problems came from the joints
themselves and a better system needed to be created.

In order for the design move forward it had to reflect on what

had made Cube Efflorescence successful. The projects success appeared to be linked with its ability to
move and bend, but that theory was misguided, the movement of the
design was only a single element of a larger idea. The other major
element was the neutral shape. While reading about Yan Chans and
Zhong Yous Deployable Structure Based on Bennett Linkage project, I
discovered that if the cube efflorescence project was scaled it too could
be covered in fabric and used as a tent like structure.xvi xvii Once I
wrapped my design in a fabric casement, the cube efflorescence no
longer resembled an ordinary cube. The new 14 sided shape actually
resembled a cube with its corners cut off, and as I started to play with
this shape it became apparent that anything that Cube Efflorescence
could create could be constructed with this 14 sided shape.
Figure 5 Sketch of scales Cube

This discovery began a new wave of explorations. The block

turned out to be able to construct anything that the cube efflorescence project could become except

Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016
with the reduction of movement. The shape had a building block attribute with an amusing Lego-like
approach. The unique shape could create vertical and triangulated structures using its combination of
square and triangular faces and became something unique to design with. However, unlike Cube
Efflorescence this version couldnt move and showed potential only as a single building-block-like mass
to construct with. The system also had numerous restrictions in terms of connections and aesthetics.

Figure 10 Original 14 Sided Block


The problem with this design was the lacking of elegance that
the cube efflorescence embodied; a system capable of movement
became a boxy looking, clunky building-block design that would be
heavy to build and inconvenient to construct with. While constructing
forms with the unique shape I realized that this shape was only
needed in places where a connection or a change in direction
occurred. Once the shape was shrunk down to a smaller size the
design began to use the shape as a node between bar like connections.
Extending perpendicular from the faces, the bar shapes connected one
node to another. This design was now capable of creating both square
spaces and triangulated structures and, as a project continued, it
became apparent that this design could be taken apart and rebuilt
with the same pieces in a completely different form. Although after
reconstructing the sequence the design began to show a striking
resemblance to the spaceframe system commonly used in architecture

Figure 11 Space-frame using 14 sided


The project once again began to prove it could become a

structure with repeated components; however, this ridged form
lacked still the elegance that came with Cube Efflorescences ability
to move and even compact itself.

The movement that this project derived from was the major component missing from this
system. At this phase, I began to reflect back from the original scaled version of the Cube Efflorescence
(sketched in figure 5) and noted that the one part of the design that created a majority of the movement
came from the ball joint used in attempt to scale the project.
The reintegration of the ball joint allowed for the movement from the earlier projects but
allowed for the grid like connections of the space frame system. The Ball joints were made in the faces
of the 14 sided design (shown below on the left) which allowed me to visually construct very interesting
forms and models using computer programs. However, though the results looked intriguing, the system
was unstable and at best could only be built in tension.
The project had begun to see restrictions of its own development due to digital modeling. Like
Cube Efflorescence, this new project needed to be constructed as a physical model to truly understand
the extent if its abilities; however, this design required too much critical detail at a small scale for me to
model by hand. The design needed to be 3D printed as a prototype.

Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016

Figure 12 Original Node design (left) and the Finalized Node Design (right)

The first prototype of the node (above on the left) was a raw idea that took many stages of
refinement from. The ideas from initial designs, mashed together with new ideas such as ball joints and
paneling was forced together to form a working piece. These first few attempts were useful in
understanding how this object would work in a real scale and revealed the Nodes ability to move and
create, but 3d printing it also allowed critical flaws to be experienced first-hand and allowed
reassessment. The flaws varied from; how the panel designs connected to the core, to how connection
to how these panels was fastened. Other problems addressed the size, overall appearance and control.
The final vison of the node addressed all of these issues. The panels were fastened individually
instead of using multiple fastened panels, and the ball joints were all moved closer to the center to
reduce the size of the design. The project began to look and perform better with reduced costs per unit.
In addition, these revisions to the initial design also allowed for control and ridged control that was
needed for the projects advancement.
A system made entirely of ball joints didnt have the capability to hold itself up, let alone create
spaces or construct forms. Thus, in order to construct spaces, the project needed one final
development; ridged components in which to construct with. The solution came from adding holes in
the core into which pins could fit. Using the new ball and pin joints alongside the ball joints allowed for
a wide range of new design capabilities that both could include and prevent movement.

Design Capabilities
Once the node had been completed, it showed it could not only build ridged structures but also
moving forms. The new Ball-and-Pin design allowed a rigid connection in both compression and tensile
structures. Using 4 or more nodes the user was able to produce both curved forms and triangulated

Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016
The ability to form structures came from the angles involved in the 14 faces
of the core. The 6 square faces are all on a traditional X Y Z axis which allows
for grid like construction. The grid like construction is formed by the 90 angle
between the square faces, allowing it to create grid like structures. The
triangular faces, which are 55 from center of the square faces, allow for
triangulation to occur within the grid. By using a combination of these faces
and the Pin-and-Ball connections (labeled in blue in all diagrams) you can
form a ridged structure capable of construction. Using the regular ball points
(labeled in red in all diagrams) tensile connections or moving structures can
be constructed.
The node can also be used to create triangular objects by attaching
a combination of the triangular axis and square axis. For example the square
faces and the triangular faces are roughly 55 from center to one another. If
two of these angles are used in conjunction with one of the 70 angles made
by using two triangular axis, it will create a triangle made of ridged pieces
(70+55+55=180). Other types of triangles can be made using combinations
of ridged and non-ridged faces; however, these may allow for some
movement in the joints where there is only one ridged component (Shown in
diagrams to the left).
In order to determine how many different combinations a single
node could create, one would have to refer to a statistics textbook. In the

case of Walpoles equation: !! where x is the amount of sides, and y and x

are the combination of ridged and non-ridged components in a single node:

1 2 = 2
0! 14!
14 2 = 28
1! 13!
2 = 182
2! 12!
2 = 728
3! 11!
2 = 2002
4! 10!
2 = 4004
5! 9!
2 = 6006
6! 8!
2 = 3432
7! 7!
Figure 13 Moment with a pinand-ball and movement with
regular ball joint.


Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016
2 + 28 + 282 + 728 + 2002 + 4004 + 6006 + 3432 =

As shown above the combinations come out to 16384 if all components are being used for
extensions. The number multiplies if we are also considering empty sockets as well as the ridged and
non-ridged components:
= 210210
4! 4! 6!
As shown above if empty sockets are included, one combination of 4 ridged, 4 ball points and 6 empty
create 210210 combinations.
If we begin including the different combinations of 4, 4, and 6;

6 ridged, 4 ball points and 4 empty

4 ridged, 6 ball points and 4 empty

4 ridged, 4 ball points and 6 empty

The design already could create over 630000 different combinations on one single node. If we include all
the combinations of different faces, these numbers will climb into the millions for just a single node.
The most magnificent aspect of this project came from the array of movement that came from
the ball-joint design. The ball-and-pin joint (blue) and the regular ball-point (Red) show the different
types of movement made with each typical ball point. In Figures 13&14 we see that the ball-point
(shown red) allows for an array of movement whereas the Ball-and-Pin (shown blue) restricts movement
along a single axis.
The full movement of the ball point allows for the construction of ornate, collapsible designs that
can create moving designs; however, in order to create any self-standing structure you need to use the
ridged, ball and pin designs. The ball and pin will only restrict movement if used on two or more axis.
The drawing below the node is shown with different combinations of 4 joints.

Figure 14 3 combinations of 2, 1, and zero ball-and-pin connections. Two allows for no movement, one allows for
movement around a single axis, and zero allows for a uncontrolled movement.


Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016

In the First example of figure 14 the unit cant move due to the use of 2 Ball-and-Pin connections
in different axis. The unit may no longer rotate in any axis; however, the regular ball points may
still move if the structure permits it.

In the Second example, the ball and pin connection is only used on one axis. The node is now
only able to move around the pin, therefore creating a single controlled movement.

The Third example shows the uncontrolled movement as a result of all points being regular ball
points. However, though this allows the node to move in all axes, it also loses its ability to hold a
ridged structure. The result creates a moving connection if built in suspension, but in
compression the structure will buckle and fail.

What can be created with the design is open ended and

infinite until material is taken into consideration. The model
was printed using plastics and 3d printed in order to
inexpensively and accurately bring the project to life, but in
order to build the project, scale and material need to be
taken into consideration. The most ideal construction
would be 3d printed aluminum components. Although this
process is still in its preliminary stages, it would allow for
the lightest construction and wouldnt need to be finished.
If the product was to be mass produced, it is likely that the Figure 15 A theoretical structure made with no
rigid components.
object could be built using molds or by using a 5 axis CNC
machine to construct the core, along with a regular 3 axis
CNC to construct the faces.

Figure 16 A theoretical structure made with all rigid components.

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Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016

Inspiration behind the Node

This design may be unique and versatile;
however, it wouldnt exist without the influence
and inspiration of some of the most genius minds
in deployable design. Architects such as Emilio
Perez Pinero, Maciej Piekarski, Yan Chen and
Zhong You became critical influences in the
research and development of the Node.

Figure 17 Hinged construction of Deployable Structure Based on

Bennett Linkage

Figure 18 Maciej Piekarskis Two-Way-Fold Truss connection

Figure 19 Emilio Perez Pinero three-rod connection

The design of the Deployable Structure Based on

Bennett Linkage became influential to the
development of my initial cube. The Bennett links
used repetitive components that used rotated pin
locations to construct curved structures. Like Cube
Efflorescence, their system required components
that were able to move outside of the axis. These
components used rotations like hinges or string
like connections. This design showed the limit of
what a hinge like connection can do before a ball
point design needed to be considered. Like this
project, the cube efflorescence used rotation in its
components to allow for a more three dimensional
scissor like connection (shown to right). Although
the answer wasnt found solely in this project, it
aided in the creation of the first prototype.xix
A design that shared similar design intent to that
of the node was Maciej Piekarskis Two-Way-Fold
Truss. The project, like Cube Efflorescence, was a
creative system that required a very unique joint
system to comprise the moving parts. In order for
Maciej to create the system, a joint prototype
needed to be constructed. The design was an
incredibly complex detail of rings inside rings
(shown to the left), which allowed a collapsible
system of moving, removable components. The
movement, however smooth, was very unique to
the specific design. The system, which was meant
to construct a two way truss, held keys to many
questions about disassembly and controlled
movement. The design for the Ball-and-Pin system

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Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016
was derived from its sleek single axis movement.xx
Once the Node project had moved into its final stages, Emilio Perez Pineros project inspired
advancements for a more adaptable, moving node. The design, like cube Efflorescence, used scissor
grids to create a movable creation. A sudden realisation came to mind after studying Mr. Pineros
three-rod connection (figure 19) which allow for pin connections through his collapsible structures.
This realisation was that the connections which were traditionally at the end of the metal tubing could
also pass through at any given point. This new consideration added a new depth of consideration for the
node design. After looking into Mr. Pineros designs, the realisation came to mind that without changing
the design of the node, the system could still be expanded on and continue to add new types of moving

Continuing Development
The design began to show even more potential with each minor
alteration considered. The use of the ball joint was redesigned to
support horizontal pinning and sliding (shown on the right) was
just one consideration of further development. This unit which
has already proven it could be used in a million different
combinations began to show it could be used in many more. The
Nodes ability to restrict or support many types of movement
allowed for a self-supporting, moving, and collapsing design. New
adaptations of the ball joints, in conjunction with pins, rails,
extensions and even pistons would allow a limitless range of
movement for the project. Not only could this be used to create
the Cube Efflorescence for which it was designed, but it can also
create many new creations, moving or rigid. This is a system truly
capable of endless combinations that can be used to create
wonderful moving and deployable architecture.

Figure 20 Considered Pin-joint-and rail


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Joshua Eckert
Jan 05, 2016

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Photo Credits:
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Figure 4: Adrover, Esther Rivas. Deployable Structures. London: Laurence King, 2015. 24-25. Print.
Figure 5: Adrover, Esther Rivas. Deployable Structures. London: Laurence King, 2015. 80-81. Print.
Figure 8: Adrover, Esther Rivas. Deployable Structures. London: Laurence King, 2015. 14-17. Print.
Figure 17: Adrover, Esther Rivas. Deployable Structures. London: Laurence King, 2015. 28. Print.
Figure 18: Adrover, Esther Rivas. Deployable Structures. London: Laurence King, 2015. 107. Print.
Figure 19: Adrover, Esther Rivas. Deployable Structures. London: Laurence King, 2015. 77. Print.

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