PLASTI+CITY is an installation by students of the Institut d’Arquitectura Avancada de Catalunya ‘Digital Tectonics’ postgraduate program, presented at the Construmat 2007 in Barcelona. It is the result of a collaborative exploration with the company LASENTIU to expand the use of Syntrewood, a 100% recycled and 100% recyclable plastic material, through the use of advanced digital design and manufacturing technologies (parametric cad-cam software + CNC fabrication equipment). Plasti+city is an adaptable architectural surface made out of 200 differentiated parts, all derived from identical standard components. (Plasticity played a key role in the later founding of LaN as 3 of our directors developed our close collaboration through this project)
Project direction Marta Malé-Alemany (IAAC, Postgraduate in ‘Digital Tectonics’) Project development Luis Fraguada, Gozde Kucukoglu, Enrique Ramirez, Shane Salisbury, Monika Wittig, Emmanouil Zaroukas, (All IAAC Students) Project assistance Susana Karrasch External Conceptual Advisors Jorge Godoy, Axel Kilian, Sabine Muller, José Pedro Sousa Software Consultants Hector Soler Raül Soler (Tecnocim) Structural Engineering Consultant Florian Foerster (Buro Hapold) Material Development Consultant Ignasi Perez-Arnal, Santi Docal (Lasentiu) Material Supply Lasentiu Lighting Punto Luz CNC Fabrication IAAC
Project basis PLASTICITY commenced with the merging interests of an academic institute (Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia) to research material driven digital design/fabrication processes and a local plastics manufacturer (Lasentiu) interested in broadening their production components confined to limited product line.
Plastic base At the root of the collaborative investigation, lies the intrigue with Lasentiu’s resourceful material production—the reclamation of low grade plastics discarded by recycling plants (as suboptimal for recycling compared with PET, etc) and otherwise destined for incineration or the landfill. In a world increasingly saturated with single-use plastics, Lasentiu cultivates the potential for expansion of material lifecycles within a viable economy of sustainability.
LASENTIU serves as an agent within the local Catalonian plastics infrastructure—processing 2,000 tons of waste in 2004 in their single factory operation (80 km North of Barcelona). Manufacturing a 100% recycled/recyclable material (syntrewood), Lasentiu collects compacted bales (discards of local recycling plants) consisting mainly of domestic plastics (from urban recycling receptacles containing the likes of plastic bags, toothpaste tubes, tetra paks, etc). Production first grinds the crushed plastics into small chips followed by an attempt to sift out of all metals. Using medium temperature, Lasentiu melts resultant plastic chips into pellets. Robotic armatures reheat pellets and pressure mold (to one of about 200 current molds). A series of secondary processes further specify components for particular use (i.e. cleaning edges of molded component followed by drilling of holes for the attachment of secondary structure). Lasentiu’s production heavily concentrates on chair components (producing the interior seating/backrest components reliant on another company upholstering for final finish). Further products include garden/storage shelving, trash bins, and similar products of rough industrial finishes.
COLLABORATION With Lasentiu manufacturing not only a material, but also material use-specific products, it is clear that product potential drives the transformation of the material manufacturing. Conversely this also holds true for how material manufacturing developments stimulate product potentials. Aware of this inherent feedback loop, Lasentiu welcomes collaborations with designers in an attempt to utilize creative minds to propose new products and hence drive advancements in materiality. The immediate interest on IAAC side of the academic/industry collaboration, lied in opening the production possibilities to reach architectural proportions. In initial explorations stemming from the interest in designing building components, its important to note that it quickly became clear that the design task at hand was essentially unable to disassociate itself from the larger system of intelligence—the production process itself.
To date many projects digitally fabricated rooted in mass-customization, face criticism for the magnitude of material waste resulting from computer controlled subtractive processes. On one hand, Lasentiu’s process immediately addresses this issue—offering the production capacity to readily accept discarded material for re-cycling. On the other hand, this would not suffice as scholarly achievement on the capacity of the project contribution to forwarding sustainable practices. The realization here became, the project was less about working with a particular materiality (recyclables), and more about the embracing of material process considerations as critical parameters of the design agenda. In this manner, the value of the research agenda had not as it’s goal any one formal outcome, but rather the meaningful engagement with the existing industrial process. Greater rigor was placed on the speculation of process sustainability (ability to encounter forces of economics, eco-logics, culturalpractices, technological adaptations, etc) over a mere materiality’s recycling capacity.
Collective Plastic Properties The collaborative terms permitted IAAC unlimited supply of syntrewood material components for prototyping. With a non-typical, completely open-ended design agenda, and an initial request for a range of components (a planar component, one of single curvature, and a double curvature component) first efforts went into understanding of the materiality, resulting for example in the unexpected brittle nature of Syntrewood components. Evaluations on material properties prompted testing on: high and low temperature reactions (for testing of melting point, bending, surface bubbling, and adhesion to one another through plastic welding), results from machining techniques (laser cutter, CNC mill), and general property data (weight, weight bearing per component).
Component Plastic Properties Realizing the open project agenda, the design team concluded the need to impose constraints (to aid project development) —starting by honing in on one particular Lastentiu component to accumulate precise intelligence of geometric repercussions on assemblies. Through an evaluation of material properties, the component of choice was a double-curved back rest component. Chosen specifically for the differential cross-sections and structural potential of its double curvature. In this moment the project switched from nearly unconstrained, to specifying a parameter driving consideration of other phases (i.e for production, how a molding device or other means is necessary to secure a double curved piece for machining).
Pavilion Installation The constructed publicly-displayed iteration of PLASTICITY derived its form via 219 differentiated industrial components. This installation during a bi-annual EU construction industry fair sought to serve Lasentiu by intriguing designers to interact with their manufactured materiality (prefaced over the displaying of currently produced products). The process of project PLASTICITY elaborated the worth of accumulating intelligence from a multi-industry collaboration on a multi-scale manner as means to the arrival at a economic, environmental, local-global relational tectonic. This tectonic of non-standard proportions which defies traditional definitions and ultimately what succeeded in showcasing material potential for Lasentiu.
Conclusion of Tectonic Proportions PLASTI+CITY emerged as a model of manipulation of mass-produced standards via an associative industrial-architectural process resulting in an adaptable tectonic. Through ‘Plasticity’ (defined as a state of fluid project development) a progression of nonlinear, integrated design/fabrication evolutions merged into a collection of knowledge about the potentials and limits syntrewood as a materiality explored for use at the building industry scale. This jumping of scales of component application (to one of spatial enclosures and building surfaces) was perhaps the most extreme yet effective aspect of the proposal to Lasentiu by the IAAC team. This premise of speculation drove a series multi-layered parametric exercises dealing with immense number of choices (nature of open-ended design agenda). Ironically, imposing limitations freed the process (enabling decisions and paths of progression) –grounding an otherwise floating parametric investigation. In this grounding, tectonic evaluations proved the driving force in realizing the final system (one sited appropriately at a leading building industry fair of innovative practices and products). Considering the production of a material of a moldable nature, why restrict the investigation to systems of differentiation for their existing standard components, rather than redirect focus to new mold possibilities from which new components are derived? The preference to exploit existing tectonic potentials over reinventing a new component is rooted in industrial process-parametrics. What was proposed is a secondary, parametrically controlled system for altering existing product components for use in architectural applications. While architectural designers increasingly engage with material driven design variations, few reinform the actual industrial material process (mostly limited to post industry-production). The process by which Plasticity was realized allows Lasentiu to immediately implement a custom differentiation process within their existing production infrastructure. Hence, as Lasentiu essentially supplied IaaC with a process over product, consequentially IAAC delivered a proposal for process manipulation over formal design configuration—giving Lasentiu immediate access to expanding their product scale immensely through parametric practices over further economic investment. Project PLASTICITY arrived at an understanding of this critical point and in turn reoriented its oscillating research agenda to hone in on an elaborated investigation of alteration of standard parts over new mold design—in the end guaranteeing the acquired knowledge will significantly aid an informed direction towards the next more costly development phase–the design of a new mold.
PLASTI+CITY | Parametric Plastic Pavilion text by Fraguada, Salisbury, Wittig presented at TECTONICS 2007 | TU – Eindhoven for text in full >>