Make Architecture



04. Shopbot: Pixel_LITE

The goal of this project is to make a snap together construction kit using the ShopBot CNC machine (PRS alpha96) at the MIT Mars Lab. I chose to make a wall-hung light fixture with an image translated onto the surface of the fixture.

Make Time:

  • 3 hours – Design / Photoshop / Template File
  • 2 hour – PartWorks / ShopBot
  • 2+ hour – Assembly

Tools and Components:

  • ShopBot CNC machine – PRS alpha96 (Bedsize 96″ x 60″ x 6″)
  • Template file
  • 1 sheet of 1/2″ x 48″ x 48″ MDO (medium density overlay / plywood)
  • 1/8″ x 18″ x 18″ Acrylic sheet
  • String of 50 clr mini christmas lights


DESIGN. The light fixture is designed to be a simple box 18″ wide x 18″ long x 3-1/2″ deep with perforated holes of different sizes translated from an image.

Pixel_LITE design

Calligaphy at Wan Choi Station in Hong Kong

The original image is 4272 x 2848 pixels. In photoshop, turn photo into black & white and clean background. Under filter > pixelate > color halftone, use max radius 50 pixels, and channel 1 thru 4 is 0 degrees. For best results, make sure the back ground is a very light grey and the image is a darker shade of grey.

Pixelated image from Adobe Photoshop

Open original image in Adobe Illustrator and use the Live Trace option to convert the raster image into vectors. Adjust tracing option, set threshold to 190 and blur to 0.2 for smoother lines and better results. Export line work to dwg.

Vector drawing from Adobe Illustrator Live Trace

Layer both pixel and outline drawings in AutoCAD and make template drawings.

Pixel_LITE Template

Pixel_LITE Template

Pixel_LITE Template.pdf

SHOPBOT CNC. Join all vectors and save template as .dxf. Open file in PartWorks V2. The job setup size is 48″ x 48″, uncheck use origin offset, and hit okay.

Under drawing > edit vectors > create fillets. The CNC machine cannot make 90 degree sharp corner and must have either fillet, dogbone or t-bone when dealing with a corner condition. The fillet/ tool radius is determined by the size of endmill used (1/4″ endmill, 0.125″ radius).

The template file utilizes pocketing, drilling, and profile toolpaths as well as three different sizes of endmill. Each of these different tool paths need to be setup and saved individually.

Different tool paths used for Pixel_LITE:

  • 1/4″ endmill, pocketing tool path
  • 1/8″ endmill, drilling tool path
  • 3/8″ endmill, drilling tool path
  • 1/4″ endmill, drilling tool path
  • 1/4″ endmill, profile tool path

Setting up tool paths:

After saving each tool path with a unique name, proceed to screw MDO down to the machine bed. Open Shopbot program, use shortcut K to bring up control panel, and shortcut X to speed up the CNC machine. Bring endmill to center of material and select Cuts > C2 – Zero Z Axis with Z zero Plate. Attach alligator clip onto endmill and place metal plate on top of the MDO.

Set XY origin to bottom right corner of ShopBot CNC bed.

Total cut time for Pixel_LITE template file is 1 hr 30 min.

ShopBot CNC in action

Varvara helping to chance endmill

ASSEMBLY. The material thickness was measured to be 0.48 and 0.01″ offset was used per notch. However, due to a slight unevenness in the MDO, majority of the drilling did not go through completely. Also, the offset was a bit too tight thus a combination of filing, sanding, and hammering with a rubber mallet were used to assist press fit pieces to come together.

Tom & Pixel_LITE

Lessons learned:

  • Double check, no, triple check on material thickness, tolerance, and setting Z zero.
  • If you make a mistake, it’s always easier to correct on the machine. Hand poking through each individual hole takes a lot longer than 2 hours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


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.


%d bloggers like this: