How Australian students explored the universe of digital architecture—guided by Chris Bosse of PTW
David Sokol -- Interior Design, 8/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
When PTW architects associate Chris Bosse was invited to teach a master class in digital architecture at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, he felt that the typical student critiques were "a bit boring. Instead, I suggested we take digital architecture into the real world." If digital design was once about drawing unrealizable blobs, he explains, "Now you can start with what you can build the old-fashioned way, and the computer grows it in a genetic sense, which means the final result is still buildable." Bosse is referring to parametric modeling, based on patterns found in nature, and he was already familiar with the technique from his work at PTW—where he's an architect for Beijing's National Aquatics Centre, inspired by soap bubbles.
While Bosse's firm has had ample time and resources to complete the 2008 Olympic Games venue, he and his 24 students could spend only three weeks and the equivalent of approximately $4,000 in U.S. currency. The group decided to fill the interior of gallery 72 Erskine with a multitude of white cardboard folded forms: 12- and 14-sided Weaire-Phelan polyhedrons, named for physicists Denis Weaire and Robert Phelan. These shapes are the simplest that can create the infinite structures perfectly suited to parametric design. Plus, the budget would have to cover only two die cuts.
Using computers, the students configured the polyhedrons into a loose mass. Then it was time to attack the hands-on work. Bosse invited PTW colleagues, his students called their friends, and the group held a series of "folding parties" to transform the 3,500 flat-pack sheets. Finally, the class glued the cardboard forms into place as a self-supporting structure that arched overhead, cascaded into the gallery's front window, and crept up the stairs.
Given the name Digital Origami, the finished installation also involved light and audio. Banks of fluorescent spots and LEDs illuminated the intricate white form in unpredictable color combinations: red and blue, turquoise and green. And a sound track filled the gallery with a continuous underwater whooshing. The combination reminded Bosse of the Great Barrier Reef.