Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Create More Future Fossils with 3D Printing

This week’s guest blog comes from Jenny E. Sabin, a Philadelphia-based architectural designer and artist, and professor of Design and Emerging Technologies in the Dept of Architecture at Cornell University.

The Greenhouse and Cabinet of Future Fossils 2011 was commissioned by the American Philosophical Society Museum, funded by Heritage Philadelphia Program, a program of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Through its dynamic material configuration, The Greenhouse & Cabinet of Future Fossils attempts to gather, digest, and disseminate information about nature while also incorporating cutting edge design and fabrication techniques to ultimately produce a greenhouse of the future.

The pavilion structure is populated with cold frame modules and futuristic ceramic and 3D printed curiosities, pre-fabricated and assembled in the Jefferson Garden, Philadelphia. Taking inspiration from the artifacts in the exhibition, Of Elephants and Roses: Encounters with French Natural History, 1790-1830, the Greenhouse encapsulates the open and dramatic spatial attributes of the outer-body in the field--defined as a 3-dimensional tapestry of organic and synthetic material layers--while simultaneously expressing the closed and steady gaze of the inner-body confined within the boundaries of the cabinet—geometrically materialized as a wall grid of cold frames and display vitrines.

Greenhouse & Cabinet of Future Fossils, view looking West, 2011, photo credit: Brent Wahl
Greenhouse & Cabinet of Future Fossils, view looking northeast, 2011, photo credit: Meagan Whetstone

The entire structure is pre-fabricated locally in Philadelphia and assembled on site. The primary rib system consists of CNC cut recyclable plastic ‘plywood’ parts and 100% recycled plastic lumber board sections serve as a cross-bracing system. The ribs and cross bracing are bolted into place for easy assembly and disassembly. The 2’ x 1’ x 1’ cold frame boxes clip into the rib structure. Each cold frame module features a colorful acrylic plastic lid. The structure is populated with live vines and each cold frame houses a variety of plants and soil. The Cabinet of Future Fossils is constructed from the same rib and cross-bracing system. Display modules with sealed polycarbonate sides clip into the rib system and contain ZCorp. 3D prints and cast porcelain forms generated from 3D printed positives.
Greenhouse & Cabinet of Future Fossils, cross rib assembly, 2011, photo credit: Jenny E. Sabin
Greenhouse & Cabinet of Future Fossils, material systems, detail, 2011, photo credit: Meagan Whetstone

The interior gallery or wall grid within the structure houses the Cabinet of Future Fossils, a modular system holding newly fabricated 3D printed and ceramic artifacts inspired by nature, complexity and generative design processes. Importantly, the ceramic forms made of porcelain clay, make references to the French porcelain objects displayed in the exhibition. Each Future Fossil is either 3D printed or cast from a plaster mold generated from an original 3D print.

The Cabinet of Future Fossils, 3D prints and Cast Ceramic Forms, 2011, photo credits: Jenny E. Sabin; Printing provided by Z Corp.

The production of ceramic form includes three distinct phases: greenware, bisque firing, and glaze firing. Greenware is the initial state of the clay form before firing. It is during this phase, that the clay may be manipulated through hand forming, throwing, casting, and now 3D printing. The actual clay modules in this project were cast from 3D printed positives made of zp150 advanced composite material. Slip casting requires liquid clay or what is commonly called ‘slip.’ Initial studies incorporate high-fire white clay for its translucency and for ease in casting. Slip casting affords rapid production of multiple parts, but with limited variation. Complexity and variation of each part is governed by the mold and the initial 3D print. In this project 2 and 3-part plaster molds were made of each 3D printed part. Slip is then poured into the mold. Once it is set, the part is released and is ready for firing.
The Greenhouse
Designer and Artist: Jenny E. Sabin
Consulting Engineer: Tristan Simmonds
Fabricator: Mikael Avery, Draft Works LLC
Design and Production Team: Mikael Avery, James Fleet Hower, Jason Jackson, Anooshey Rahim, Kathryn Rufe, Meagan Whetstone
Overall = 52’(l) x 14’(w) x 12’(h)
Cabinet structure = 20’(l) x 2’(w) x 4.5’(h)

CNC cut recyclable high density polyethylene sheets
Recycled plastic ‘lumber’ board
CNC cut polycarbonate
Laser-Cut acrylic sheets
Stainless Steel hardware
Live vines: “mooneye” – small black-eyed Susan Blossom, White and Lavender Clematis, Scarlett Runner Beans
Nylon cables

Cabinet of Future Fossils
Designer and Artist: Jenny E. Sabin
3D printing sponsorship provided by Z Corporation
Cast Porcelain Ceramic forms from Z Corp. 3D printed positives
3D printed forms in Z Corp. zp150 advanced composite material
Porcelain slip

For additional information on this exhibit, please visit: