Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Architects and Cell Biologists find common ground through 3D printing

Contributed by Jenny E. Sabin, Sabin+Jones LabStudio, UPenn,

Recent technological leaps in data production, visualization and computation have afforded both architects and scientists an extraordinary ability to generate information and complex form. This has therefore offered up fruitful ground for collaboration.

As opposed to designing from the top-down, architects specializing in generative and parametric design strategies, more formally known as design computation, have adopted a bottom-up approach to the negotiation of constraints within the design process. This renewed interest in complexity has brought forth alternative methods for investigating the interrelationships of parts to their wholes and emergent self-organized pattern systems at multiple scales and applications.

Biology provides useful systems-based models for architects to study and understand how context specifies form, function and structure. While the end goals may differ in science and architecture, there is a driving necessity in both disciplines to spatialize, model, and fabricate complex, emergent, and self-organized systems. How do we intuit, see, and inhabit complex wholes that are indiscernible from their parts? Intersections between computation and material organizations reveal powerful models for visualizing the intangible. Technology has afforded us with an extraordinary ability to generate information, yet this has resulted in an ever-increasing inability to organize, visualize and model diverse datasets and processes. Given this, it is becoming even more challenging to interpret and model complexity using existing approaches. With increasing amounts of data now being generated, there is a growing demand for more sophisticated computational tools and fabrication methods that are capable of extracting and analyzing specific temporal-spatial relationships. To address this problem, researchers in the Sabin+Jones LabStudio* are developing new approaches for the analysis, visualization and fabrication of large biological and architectural datasets that remain indecipherable using existing means.

While the first phase of our design work resides within the spirit of research and discovery, our current phase engages design-oriented applications in experimental material systems ranging from new concepts of materiality to adaptive structures and complex geometries. Key to this design research is the exploration of new tectonic organizations for application at the architectural scale. Here, material technology and design ecology are informed by the visualization of complex biological systems through the generation of new design tools and experiments in fabrication and material construction. Thus far, essential part-to-whole relationships abstracted from the biological systems of study have been explored through the design and 3D printing of non-standard components on our LabStudio ZCorp model 510 printer.

One of our recent projects unfolded at the 2010 International Smart Geometry Conference held in Barcelona at IaaC. As 1 of 10 workshops within the Working Prototypes session, we focused our efforts upon simulation of nonlinear behavior in cell biological systems and the translation of this behavior into material systems and fabrication techniques, namely through 3D printing. Our cluster was titled Nonlinear Systems Biology and Design. For the first stage of the workshop, our efforts were focused upon abstracting and extracting the underlying rules and criteria for cellular networking behavior. We are interested in abstracting behaviors as opposed to form and cellular shapes, which sits in contrast to popular biomimetic approaches. Additionally, we taught the students about the interdependence between environment, code and algorithmic processes. In biology, this is known as reciprocity. This presents a powerful ecological model for architecture. Before the start of the workshop, our testing ground included heavy use of our ZCorp 510 color 3D printer. We were interested in prototyping components, not wholes. We launched a ‘node competition’ with the accepted workshop students before the start of the workshop. ZCorp provided generous support in the printing and production of the components before and during the actual workshop. Similar to the work of Antoni Gaudi, we were interested in bridging behaviors abstracted from biology with material constraints, force transmission and actual fabrication and assembly as a continuous and unfolding loop. In the context of the workshop, there was a constant reengagement of feedback, where constraints from the actual physical environment informed our virtual computational models. The ZCorp team provided impeccable quality control. The final Working Prototype engaged a process of nonlinear fabrication informed by biological behavior and novel fabrication techniques that incorporated 3D printing.

Acknowledgement: The Nonlinear Systems Biology and Design cluster was led by Jenny Sabin, Peter LLoyd Jones, Andrew Lucia and Erica Savig
The Sabin+Jones LabStudio is a hybrid research and design unit based within the Institute for Medicine & Engineering, the School of Design and the Nonlinear Systems Organization at The University of Pennsylvania. Within the Sabin+Jones LabStudio, architects, mathematicians, materials scientists and cell biologists are actively collaborating to develop, analyze and abstract dynamic, biological systems through the generation and design of new tools. These new approaches for modeling complexity and visualizing large datasets are subsequently applied to both architectural and biomedical research and design. The real and virtual world that LabStudio occupies has already offered radical new insights into generative and ecological design within architecture, and it is providing new ways of seeing and measuring how dynamic living systems are formed and operate during development and in disease. Overall, the Mission of LabStudio is to produce new modes of thinking, working and creating in design and biomedicine through the modeling of dynamic, multi-dimensional systems with experiments in biology, applied mathematics, fabrication and material construction.

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