The New York-based architecture firm SHoP has built stadiums and skyscrapers. It has planned innovation hubs and entire city districts. Which makes its latest project seem deceptively simple: a pair of sculptural 3D-printed pavilions called "Flotsam & Jetsam" that are designed to showcase the beauty of pure structure and the potential of digital fabrication.
Working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Branch Technology—a Chattanooga, Tennessee–based startup—SHoP is developing a sinuous, latticed monocoque form (meaning that the skin is integrated with the structure) inspired by the shape of jellyfish. In addition to offering outdoor seating, one of the two pavilions will also host a bar that is partly made up of what the designers call the world's largest 3D printed object. And robots are building them.
"It was almost like how do we turn a 3D truss into a cephalopod?" Gregg Pasquarelli, one of SHoP's cofounders, says. "With all SHoP projects, form comes from how the building works: What’s the effect we want the building or the structure or object to have? What does it feel like? What does it do?"
The pavilion celebrates SHoP's work as an architecture firm and will appear at this year's Design Miami before moving to a permanent location in Florida's swankiest city. SHoP—which was named as one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies in 2014—is the 2016 recipient of the Panerai Design Miami/ Visionary Award. (Yves Behar won the award last year; prior to 2014 it was known as the Designer of the Year award and , David Adjaye, Zaha Hadid, and Marc Newson have been lauded in the past.)
SHoP sculpted the design using a 3D design program from the software company Dassault Systemes. The design had to be built quickly, prefabricated and assembled on-site, and then disassembled and moved. Using conventional craft-based techniques would be too fragile. SHoP also investigated boat-building techniques and injection molding, but ultimately settled on 3D printing, which met all the technical requirements and let the architects explore more ambitious aesthetics.
SHoP is using two different techniques to build the design. The first, courtesy of Branch Technology, is a robotic arm that prints a substrate of ABS plastic and carbon fiber in a structure inspired by cells. The second is a large-scale 3D printer from the Oak Ridge National Library that prints a substrate of biodegradable bamboo. The ORNL is the current Guinness Book of World Records holder for the largest 3D printed object—a trim and drill tool that's as long as an SUV. At 16 feet by 10.3 feet by 3.3 feet, a section of the Flotsam & Jetsam bar is expected to surpass that record.
The entire form was designed to offer a high strength-to-material ratio. A pound and a half of the carbon fiber substrate can support 1,500 pounds. Because the structure is porous, it naturally holds up against wind loads.
"We’re playing on the impact resistance and structural integrity of materials, Rebecca Caillouet, a senior associate at SHoP says. "You have to ask what’s the least amount of material we can use to make something that’s optimized for the structure. 3D printing has no geometric limitations in that sense so we were able to go after this amorphic sculptural form."
While SHoP doesn't have plans to immediately use the techniques it's developing for the pavilions in its larger architectural commissions, it sees potential for the structure to be applied as a wall or ceiling feature in an interior or as formwork for complex concrete shapes.
"We don’t want this to be a one-off thing," Pasquarelli says. "SHoP has prided itself in not being a specialist in one particular type of building. This continues the trajectory of our curiosity and our interest in design and the art world and making beautiful things and experimental things. Sometimes you have less ability to be experimental with a 1,000-foot-tall tower so you take opportunities with smaller projects to push what you can do. The speed at which you can do small projects like this is great since you can test new ideas and these then seep into your hand and eye, eventually impacting how you design in the next few years."
[All Images: courtesy SHoP Architects]