As conventional casting methods have taught us, the best way for reliably manufacturing multiples of any object is to start with an accurate and sturdy mold. For their recent Fabric Forms explorative material study, however, architects Joseph Sarafian and Ron Culver wanted to do something that was anything but conventional.
Working with the Grasshopper plug-in for Rhino and a pair of 6-axis Kuka robots, the designers developed a new method of manufacturing that couples the precision of 6-axis robots with the flexibility of fabric – a combination that can rapidly produce variation in cast objects.
Using the durable Lycra fabric as their flexible mold material of choice, Sarafian and Culver developed concrete structural prototypes that, despite their organic variation, are able to be built along with accurately positioned geometries. These ‘contact points’ between each of the modular structural forms are controlled by the 6-axis robots while the fabric stretched between the arms is able to move freely at will and provide the variation for each part. Once cast, the pieces are connected using custom 3D printed nodes and bolts built specifically for the project:
“Traditional rigid formwork has distinct disadvantages for casting complex geometry. The system we propose couples the precision of 6-axis robots with the flexibility of fabric which can adapt to virtually any shape when appropriately positioned prior to filling with casting materials.
The flexible fabric has a more natural form – rather than explicit geometry. Lycra formwork produces a unique shape and texture. The amount of stretch (and rotation) leads to a series of variable results (bodies) between the fixed end points. Therefore, this system not only creates accurately positioned geometries, it also allows for organic variation, texture and a natural unpredictability.”
The designers are hoping to expand outside of the prototyping stage and use their innovative manufacturing technique to develop usable elements for modern architecture including façades and even entire structures. Find out more over at Sarafian’s website.