Building Bigger Light Sculptures by Going Modular

I've been wanting to make bigger light sculptures and given the build size of my MakerBot Rep 2 the only way I could do that was to use modules. For a long time I've been interested in TIN (Triangulated Irregular Network) structures so I thought I'd try that approach. The first step was to create the model in SketchUp. Using the Align and Artisan SketchUp plugins I took each triangle in the shape and "popped" out an organic shape. My wife called them ravioli. The Align plugin allows easily aligning a face to the x/y plane. Artisan has a tool that allows 'locking' selected edges and vertices, so the organic shapes can be created without modifying the base triangles. (BTW, Artisan has great educational pricing.) I kept the created shapes in careful order using the lines shown in the image below. As soon as a shape was printed I wrote its number on the back using a Sharpie. It also helps to mark the "up" side of each module as otherwise it can be a bit of a puzzle aligning and assembling them. (Update: I've created a short video with additional information about how to create shapes like this for polyhedral pendants.)
There are 37 modules in 'The Monster' -as we affectionately call the sculpture- and they can all be seen in the picture below. Each module needed small hinges to hold the 1/8" wooden dowels that connect them together. They each also needed a circular shape on the back to hold the AdaFruit RGB LEDs used to light the sculpture. After trying a number of options I used standard two-part epoxy to glue the hinges and light holders to the modules. In a few cases I needed to fix/supplement the epoxy bond with a hot glue gun.

The next image shows the sculpture fully assembled with the light strand all wired up and ready to have the LEDs inserted into the modules. This step actually went very easily and quickly. I had intentionally sized the modules so that the 3" wire length between each light on the strand would be sufficient to cover the distance between adjacent light holders. Adafruit has an excellent tutorial for using these lights.

The colors of the module lights change randomly, but in a very gradual fashion. I'm happy to share the programming for this if anyone is interested.
I'd like to try making one of these with larger modules but won't until there is a light strand solution that doesn't involve making two splices of four wires between each light holder. (I've suggested to Adafruit that they consider making light strands with larger lengths between the lights.) A final note regarding the hinges. If I did this again I'd oversize the hole for the dowel a bit. Most of my problems assembling the model came from the dowels fitting too snugly in the holes. 

An Experiment with a Complex Curved Green Roof

I finally bit the bullet and decided to prototype a curved green roof. I set myself a very limited budget, and the resulting prototype is an experiment, not an actual roof structure. It is a testbed for trying out some ideas.

The underlying structure.

Early prototyping.

The waterproof membrane. 

The parts.

The mesh framework for holding the soil.

Material to keep the soil from washing out.

The mesh in place and the soaker hose added.

Adding the soil.

Grass mixture added.

Yestermorrow Practicum Project - Post 28

Some final reflections about the practicum project.

  • Creating complexly curved roofs is really hard. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed and very little information, technology or practice available for guidance. As a result I've had to come up with solutions to many challenges on my own. I hope, as I move forward, to work more with others also interested in exploring this area.
  • Hempcrete is a building material with much potential, especially in the natural building community. This article in nauhaus lays out the arguments for hempcrete quite persuasively. I hope someone in the Yestermorrow teaching staff will do a project with hempcrete in the near future.
  • Yestermorrow has been a supportive community for my explorations. Not as helpful as I had hoped, but I suspect that's because my ideas are pretty far "out there." Sadly for me, I didn't find my architectural tribe at Yestermorrow; perhaps because at this point I'm a tribe of one. I did learn a lot from all the classes I took, and really appreciate the knowledge and caring of the instructors and staff. 
  • Maybe a way forward is to combine traditional rectilinear architecture with curvaceous triangular architecture. Some interesting possibilities there.
  • Thanks to Bill Hulstrunk for his quiet support as my practicum advisor. Thanks also to Kate Stephenson for all her support with presenting virtually. Finally, special thanks to Ed Lowans for helping me understand the importance of context... and how architects think.
  • A special thanks to Tom Simon and Emily Payton at Hempfully Green for their ongong support and advocacy of hemp as a sustainable building material. They also very kindly supplied me with materials for my hemp wall experiment. 
  • If you would like a copy of the SketchUp model of the studio just drop me a line and I'll be happy to send along the file.

Yestermorrow Practicum Project - Post 24

Added the hard mache layer to cover and smooth out the triangulated roof decking. 

Two images below illustrate solar gain issues. The first image has winter solstice shadows. The sun penetrates deeply into the structure. The second image has summer solstice shadows. The sun barely enters the building. Both images were generated using the same time of day.

A render made later. Note the roof vents.

Yestermorrow Practicum Project - Post 22

In the embedded video I go through some of the steps needed to create a triangular roofing board and supporting rafters for the organically-curved roof I'm "building" for my Yestermorrow practicum project. Please note that the boards I call joists are actually rafters. (My bad, but I think you will get the idea.)

Also please see the two images below the video. I've finished the hub placement. There is an end in sight!

Yestermorrow Practicum Project - Post 21

Another day of plowing through making irregular triangles and their support beams. If the tediousness of doing this forces me to come up with a better solution than it will have been worth it. Otherwise... not so sure. 

A couple of images showing the progress.