Make Architecture



5 – CNC Milled parametric shelves

My goal for this project was to make a version of Nomadic Furniture… shelves that could be simply dis-sembled and reassembled and have a very digital character.  I looked at the work of GT2P and DBP and pursued my own, smaller version of this type of shelf.


  • one sheet of unfaced plywood at 4’x4′ and 1/2″ thick
  • L-brackets and screws for wall mounting


  • design in rhino
  • create cutsheets in CAD
  • open the cut files (pictured below) and set up on CNC with 1/4″ endmill bit
  • add dogbones to connection slots in the ShopBot software before cutting
  • fix material to cutting bed and watch while it cuts pieces out
  • assemble by hand, hopefully without a mallet


I started this project by deforming a 3’x2′ plane in Rhino using control points.  I then ‘rebuilt’ the surface, ‘extractwireframes’, and extruded those lines into planes.  I was able to make further adjustments in CAD to smooth certain curves and make the slot joints.

This was a very straightforward pattern to cut on the CNC.  I used a .47″ slot width for our material which measured .48″ thick with calipers.

Unfortunately I didnt make any markings on the pieces to orient them for assembly.  With enough guesswork/time, you could assemble this correctly without markings since every joint is unique.  With so many joint fittings per piece however, a slot with more tolerance would have been helpful!

all the pieces stacked up in a pile.  you can even carry this on your bike!

pieces layed out pre-assembly.

dogbones done on the shopbot.

the first attempt at assembly didn’t go so well, the joints were too tight and there were too many of them.  I think a .47″ tolerance works for a small slot/slot joint or a box joint but some of these joints are 6″ long so there was too much resistance.

the fix:  sanding with a dremel inside the slots and on some of them bandsawing 1/32″ of material out to widen the slots.  this worked great!  there are so many joints that loosening a couple didn’t compromise the integrity of the whole.

assembly photos and wall mounted photos follow.

terrain shelf cutfile


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Instructor: Nick Gelpi TA: Skylar Tibbits TA: Varvara Toulkeridou
Class Times, Monday, 1-4pm - room 5-216
4.184 is an intensive introduction to methods of making explored through a wide range of brief but focused 1-week exercises. We'll engage the real and leave behind representation in the focused context of this class gaining skills for utilizing a range of fabrication machines and technologies from lasercutting, waterjet, 3D printing, welding, formworking-molding, casting, gears, joints and composites.
In this workshop we'll constrain ourselves to the territory of the 1:1. Students will represent architectural constructions at full scale and develop a more intimate relationship with technology by engaging the tools and techniques that empower us. We will gain access to the most cutting edge machines and technologies in the MARS lab at the Center for Bits and Atoms.
The second layer of information for this course will be to look at a series of case studies in which construction methods and technologies have played a dominant role in the design process .
Over the past 20 years, architects have focused on the technology of representation to create new ideas of what architecture could be. Looking back today, much of that research failed to substantially change the way we design buildings by focusing on apriori formal configurations. This class makes the contention that this failure comes from a lack of considerations of the potentials within fabrication knowledge. We look to the future of what building might become, given the expanded palette of personalize-able technologies available to us as architects. Students will participate in curious technological and material investigations, to discover the potentials, known and unknown, for these various technologies.
The sub-disciplines of what's drawn and what's built have been compartmentalized and disassociated as the representational tools of architecture have distanced themselves from the techniques of making. At the same time the technologies for “making” in architecture have provided us with new possibilities for reinventing how we translate into reality, the immaterial representations of architecture.


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