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corporeal complexities

The dominance of computational strategies in contemporary practice is slowly chipping away at the rel-

evance and importance of traditional humanistic concerns, mostly the importance of the body in space.

In the fall of 2012, 20 students at the Newschool of Architecture + Design participated in a design studio

whose primary goal was to revisit these concerns via the creation of anthropomorphic spatial objects

through a process consisting of force-derived form and the understanding that, like forces such as gravity

and magnetism, the human body is a force that has specific formal implications for designers.

As a foundation-level design studio, students were introduced to the effects of natural forces on semielastic

membranes [figures 1 & 2]. The resulting surface topographies were translated into vectoral field conditions

through a process of tracking the deformations via video stills [figure 3 & 4]. By compressing the vectoral,

temporal, and depth dimensions present in the surface into a 2-dimensional representation of the process

[figure 5] ,this tracking aims to reveal the emergent characteristics through the deformation process. In this

way students move beyond simple evidence documentation and into the realm of control over novel and

nonlinear operations. It is important to note here that this foundation of novel and nonlinear operations is

revisited later in the quarter by the students as they begin to explore Delandas related concepts of capaci-

ties and properties as it leads to further development of their projects.

figure 1 - heat applied to acrylic sheet figure 2 - hot wax applied to plastic
deformation by Trevor Bernardo sheet deformation by Matthew Padilla
figures 3-5 from top left - vectoral changes of surface topology based
on deformation sequence, mapped vectoral changes defining force
lines, interpreted force-field drawing - all by Itgelt Nyamsuren

As the studio moved forward a series of exercises were conducted that encouraged the students to trans-

late their 2-dimensional understanding of dynamic force conditions back into 3-dimensional models. These

3-D models challenged the students to map specific material properties, such as grain and maximum/

minimum curvatures, to specific formal outcomes, and to develop a graphic language to map these results

[figures 6 & 7] . The force-derived forms that resulted from these physical modeling exercises are translated

into Rhino3D through an analog digitization process that translates and abstracts sectional data from

physical model to digital model [Figure 8].

figures 6&7 - Manipulated Wood
Veener Models by Tan Pham

Once digitized, students explored three primary body conditions, sitting, sleeping, and standing; these

positions were digitized and mapped against the 3-D digital model. Optimal conditions in the form that

respond to the programmatic body conditions are isolated and modified to enhance a specific body-to-

object interaction identified by each student [Figure 9].

Up to this point, student work had been conducted through a hybridized team/individual environment

where students with common interests or materials were grouped, but the work completed was individual.

Once each student had identified three variations of the model based on the three body conditions, the

studio was divided into four teams of five. Each student brought with them a catalog of sectional condi-

tions, of which one was selected to be a representative portion of their individual form-finding process up

to this point.

From this moment on each team was tasked with developing the entire 120 surface types able to be cre-

ated through a lofting procedure. As the surfaces were created students were asked to begin to define the

characteristics and properties of the entire set as well as what makes each surface individual. The surfaces

were then organized following a taxonomy consisting of priority characteristics defined by each of the
figures 8 - Inital surface to section configurations by Tobey Toney figures 9 - All possible surefaces from 5 non-repeated sectional
conditions by Victoria Rossin

teams [figure 10]. These characteristics and properties represented both the quantitative and qualitative as-

pects of the geometry and began to inform each team as to which surface was the optimal choice to move

forward with based on their own selection criteria.

The final stage of investigation for the students was to extract the necessary information from the compu-

tational model of what was up to this point simply a programmatically responsive digital surface model.

Through this extraction process students were encouraged to revisit their material studies, explore digital

fabrication strategies, and fine-tune the ergonomics of their proposals. At the close of the quarter all four

teams were able to successfully demonstrate notions that challenged the traditions of sitting, standing,

and sleeping as programmatic conditions, exploit material proprieties, and utilize various digital fabrication

strategies in order to realize their proposals [Figures 11, 12, 13 & 14].
figures 10 - full scale mock-up of Team Slice figures 11 - full scale mock-up of Team Vectors

figures 12 - full scale mock-up of Team Timber figures 13 - full scale mock-up of Team Weave
It is in the final stage of the exercise, when students are tasked with creating the morphological blends of

the initial spatial conditions, when the studios key concept of the relationship between object and body is

explored. By abstracting body positions into sectional slices, students develop the project believing they

will engage the surface in the way the section was drawn; however, once constructed to scale, it becomes

clear that there is no way to engage the surface in that manner. Instead, students are forced to deal with

topological change from one defined sectional condition to the next. This leads to a re-reading of the initial

design generators and the properties and characteristics of the surface taxonomy, as well as the fabrication

methodology and materiality of their full-scale prototypes. Some of the re-reading initiated by the students

were: cross-sectional conditions not previously explored [figure 16], material deformations that change

surface and programmatic conditions [figure 17], and contextual influences [figure 18]. These investigations

of programmatic, tectonic, and spatial concerns as related to the initial exercises in exploring the dynamics

of the force-form relationship challenge the initial working methodology and allow the students to rein-

terpret dynamic force inputs in the system as not simply natural forces, but also performative forces that

revolve around the body in space, the contextual forces and meaning of place, and the tectonic forces at

play in constructions across all scales. In removing the Vitruvian/Corbusian construction of Man/Modular in

space as a static measure, students are able to challenge traditional interruptions of the relationship be-

tween the body and space.

Casey Mahon - Author

Adjunct Faculty NewSchool of Architecture + Design


Trevor Bernardo, Nhu-Quynh Dang Phung, James Darby, Barrak Darweesh, Miguel Escobar-Evans, Mah-

mood Fadul, Homero Gomez, Francisco Herrera, Itgelt Nyamsuren, Matthew Padilla, Tan Pham, Saul Rocha,

Victoria Rossin, Jesus Sanchez, Raisa Soriano, Tobey Toney, Nancy Vasquez, Jose Villamizar, Nick Wilson,

Amanda Wynne
figures 16 - Engaging sectional condition cross-wise figures 17 - Original linear surface turning the corner

Figure 18 - Unpredicted woven inflections