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

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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]