Are These Dancing Figures The Future Of Digital Fabrication?

Architect Marc Fornes doesn’t build buildings, he codes them. Now he’s testing his digital fabrication techniques with a series of dancing, aluminum sculptures.

There seems to be no shortage to experiments with fresh building materials these days: algae buildings, homes built from shipping pallets, 3-D printed houses, and grow-as-you-go 3-D printed houses. Next up, body armor.


Or, rather, precisely coded and manufactured pieces of aluminum, pieced together into body armor. Architect Marc Fornes, who has experimented with creating code-generated physical structures in the past, is scaling down for his next exhibit and building human-sized sculptures instead of buildings.

Fornes hand-writes code, using Python, to find algorithms to create the thinnest and strongest structures possible. The results are like laser-cut 3-D puzzles–but instead of matching images, they match forms and curvatures. His goal is to design new façades that economize materials and logistics. “It’s the relation between fabrication and computation,” Fornes tells Co.Design. “Where can you have the least amount of parts, yet the most intricate shapes?” Up until this point, Fornes’s pieces have resembled swirling white playscapes, or futuristic pavilions. And his proofs of concept have panned out: Three people successfully walked on one his larger structures, built out of aluminum pieces like the ones seen here.

But for his current exhibit at New York’s Moss Bureau, Fornes was forced to size down to get his works in the door. It was quite an adaptation: Fornes and his team decided to funnel architectural theory into a fashion show. “We thought, why not test several options, and present it like a catwalk of similar pieces?” What emerged was Les Danseurs du Tailor: pieces that he says are “a mix between a metal garment, armor, and a system.”

Fornes emphasizes that the seven life-sized figures are prototypes, not sculptures: “The series is just looking at ways to reduce the number of parts. This can definitely apply to large-scale architecture. It’s not for building towers–it’s about figuring out how lightweight structures can be,” he says.

By designing 3-D human-esque figures and digitally moving them into lunging or bending dance positions, Fornes was able to test out ways to make even more complex shapes than before. The intricacy of, say, a human elbow is far more delicate to craft out of thin, precisely cut aluminum than is the side of a building. “That is where we are the computational edge,” he says.

See Les Danseurs at Moss Bureau in New York.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.