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Insanely Complex: Building Columns Made Of Plastic, With 16 Million Facets

Michael Hansmeyer, the Zurich architect who uses algorithms to generate absurdly complex structural columns, is inching closer and closer to transforming his "computational architecture" into full-blown buildings.

Hansmeyer has installed four new columns at the Gwangju Design Biennale in South Korea. He made them by iterating a subdivision algorithm, then CNC-milling parts out of 2,700 sheets of 1-millimeter-thick ABS plastic. Each 9-foot-tall column has about 16 million unique surfaces and no two columns—or even two surfaces—are the same. Yet together, they form a cohesive set of structural elements: like abstract sculptures that just happen to be able to hold up a roof.

The Sixth Order, as Hansmeyer calls it, follows up on earlier experiments in which he laser-cut sheets of cardboard to create individual columns. Each had 8 million to 16 million facets and a jagged, triangulated texture that could nearly pass for 3-D snakeskin. Hansmeyer designed them as standalone objects to show the elaborate possibilities of his technique.

Here, he went a few steps further to demonstrate how computational architecture can be deployed to generate actual architecture. He used ABS plastic, which is waterproof and makes the columns less likely to warp. And he smoothed out the texture—less 3-D snakeskin, more chiseled ice—to create columns that look like they’re part of a family (an effect intensified by strategically placed mirrors).

"When one enters the exhibition space in Gwangju and is surrounded by these columns, one can ideally begin to imagine an architecture that is conceived using such an algorithmic approach," Hansmeyer tells Co.Design. "Continuing this trajectory, one next project will be to design and construct a dome — a space that you can enter and that will completely envelope you. The 16 million facets are just the beginning!"

[Images courtesy of Michael Hansmeyer]

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  • Jetpackjello

    how do you keep this stuff clean? Dust and garbage would get into all those nooks and crannies ... bacterial nightmare!

  • Johnjeppsson

    But what is their structural load?  It does no good if it has trouble supporting fifteen kilograms!

  • Northern Light

    Looks like it's made out of tramps underwear. Who on earth would want this in their building?

  • Karyl Gilbertson

    Well, it's sure interesting. But why hasn't anyone thought about how ugly it is? :)

  • Kwok Pan Fung

     Well the artist is pushing boundaries and one has to start somewhere. You can't expect him to come up with a building right away, without doing tests like these columns. Of course, everything can be done in a simple modernist manner. Why then do we have Frank Gehry or Antoni Gaudi? 

  • Seriously

    You're talking about a 9ft column - pretty plain vanilla height here - can be accomplished very easily with a number of simple and logical building materials.
    Why would someone spend "years" of design and presumably "ages" with a CNC machine to make it out of 16 million "unique" facets? What is the point?OK if it's an artist's installation (as long as it has some esthetic appeal, which this doesn't), but please don't call it architecture.Perhaps for a Lord of the Rings movie set. 

  • Jan Janecki

    I don't know. This might be rather interesting, if he'd tried to produce complex structural shape, for now it looks like a mess, every 3d-artist possible to make. But still intriguing at some level.