Exhibit Columbus Biennial is a celebration of design, with a desire to identify the best of contemporary design in a city whose design history is remarkable - Columbus, Indiana.
Along with five finalists for the prestigious "Miller Prize," Exhibit Columbus invited six regional design schools to develop an installation for the event. Martin Summers led the team and co-taught the studio at the University of Kentucky College of Design, School of Architecture with Associate Professor David Biagi. With one fourth-year student and three graduate students, the team spent the semester working directly with Mr. Summers to develop the design, prototype parts, and get the design model ready for fabrication. After the studio ended, several issues arose with the fabrication equipment available and a string of complicated events ensued causing multiple re-designs and reductions in the overall scope. PLUS-SUM Studio took on these tasks, refining the design from geometry to details, coordinating fabrication, assembling the parts, and installing on site. Part of the overall research was to test how the digital model could drive the fabrication, limiting drawings and producing a more efficient workflow from digital to physical. These goals were pushed to the extreme under the conditions and produced some innovative solutions that allowed for a parametrically controlled model to be translated parametrically to parts, then parametrically translate those parts to cut sheets. It proved to be a great success!
The design brief for Exhibit Columbus Biennial stated that the University Installations “represent the state of architectural education as well as speculate on the potential to be a catalyst for changing the way we design and build in the Midwest ... expanding design literacy through education.” This statement and the broader brief aligned with a prior research agenda to strategically blur the lines between the academy and professional practice, taking advantage of both, within a design-build project. Research into a flexible design strategy operating at multiple scales simultaneously was also primary to this project. The rich cultural context of the city, combined with the specific site between two schools, turned the city and site into a classroom for architecture and design. Indelible Pattern(s) is designed to be challenging and didactic, telling multiple, simultaneous stories - if one takes time to explore and observe.
The project initially presents itself as a single habitable space, organized by a hanging swarm canopy above and an inscribed deck below. It requires visitors to move around and through to see these direct alignments and discover multiple indirect allusions. Visitors who slow-down, contemplate and observe, find the initial spatial simplicity as a subterfuge concealing a complex set of overlapping spaces and patterns. As one looks closer at these micro-spaces, the site and city are recontextualized as active participants forming and informing this new, temporary place. Columbus’s Modernist History is formally absorbed via regulating lines within the context while large, clearly defined voids pierce the installation framing iconic vertical moments contrasting the horizontality of the region. Patterns that are more graphic in nature are less identifiable and subtler in their operations. Two examples are the hanging swarm and the razzle-dazzle pattern in the laminated structures. The swarm reveals pixelated volumes that appear and recede as one moves and the razzle-dazzle transforms from a solid mass to thin apertures depending on the angle of view. Other tectonic assembly patterns and designed geometries allude to indelible cultural landmarks.
These contradictory smooth and discrete typologies, designed around and with the landscaping, define micro-spaces that inscribe the structure with site-specificity while other organizational rules evade, obfuscate, or delay comprehension. By juxtaposing these clear organizational alignments with less physically identifiable computational rules, visitors are left with moments of clear identification and a gap in their complete understanding. Without a single story or simple answers, visitors are left with lingering questions and personal discoveries that are felt beyond the temporary exhibit, the foundation of an individual’s education.
The design process begins with an abstract, formal, multi-scalar research agenda that gets fine-tuned through hundreds of iterations as the project's constraints are understood, absorbing information and increasing precision as the design evolves. Layered into this formal agenda were contradictory interests where patterns (camouflage and glitch) obfuscate and confuse the formal precision with a secondary digital precision that is difficult for a visitor to reconcile.
The projects language operates through abstract formal systems combined with Grasshopper scripts, producing a hybrid workflow from initial concept to construction. Grasshopper scripts became critical to the fabrication and construction workflows, allowing a method to subdivide the structure into puzzle parts then subdivide the puzzle parts into individual components, where pattern and structure merge. Once the individual components were produced, a designer would then locate the structural connection points between adjacent puzzle pieces and detail these individually. After this, another Grasshopper script translated the individual components from 3d to 2d with associated identification tags for fabrication. While initially, the goal was to pack the CNC sheets with a script, it was faster and more materially efficient to do this manually, allowing odd parts to move between sheets, therefore, minimizing overall waste and cost. The final assembly on site referenced the digital model as a template for the construction, minimizing construction documents (wasted resources) to the base framing of the deck and the steel fabrication drawings, completed by professionals outside the design team.
Additional research agendas regarding direct-to-fabrication processes, advanced digital workflows, minimum waste, and integrated modeling were critically deployed. Parametric tools evolved with the design and parametric workflows tested the limits of an integrated model as construction document, minimizing construction drawings. The project used the design model to model a pedagogy that blurs academia and practice - producing a living laboratory of current and future practice that prepares student participants for their immediate future in professional practice.
The exhibit opened June 27 and through November 26, 2017. The site for the project was in between Central Middle School, designed by Perkins + Will and Lincoln Signature Academy (originally Lincoln Elementary) designed by Gunnar Birkerts Associates.