Make Architecture



4: Shopbot

by Otto Ng <>

:: Objective

I decided to test out a small part of the building system that I am experimenting in my studio project.  It’s a structural wall, a porous partition, a staircase.   The actual material might not be timber nor 1/2 thick.  However digitally fabricating a prototype with shopbot can help my understanding for many structural and tectonic questions.

:: Materials

  • 1 sheet 1/2″** x 48″ x 48″ MDO (medium-density-overlay plywood)

** calibrated as 0.48″

:: Tools

  • ShopBot CNC machine  – PRS alpha96  (dimension: 96″x60″x6″)
  • 1/4″ end mill
  • Hammer for assembly.
  • CAD to prepare the template
  • Partworks 3.0 for adding t-bones/dog-bones and controlling the machine

:: Configurations

  • Material Thickness: 0.48″ + 0.03″ = 0.51″
  • Start Depth: 0.0″
  • Full Depth drill: 0.48″+0.08″ = 0.56″
  • Tool Pass Depth: 0.56″/2 =  0.28″
  • No. of pass:  2

:: Design

::  Section through stair

::  Wall + Stair

::  Assembling the wall

::  Assembling a step

::  Prototyping for major circumstances

::  CAD template  (download the dxf here)

::  DXF imported into Partwork.

::  Dogbones & tbones added.  Cut path calculated.

::  Machine in action!

::  ONE PIECE POPPED OUT!  Lesson learned:  Space between parts should be larger than 1 inch.

::  Final assembly

::  Evaluation

  • Spacing between parts should better be larger than 1 inch
  • Rather than cutting the whole piece in one go.  We should try separating the parts into several goes
  • Part of the bottom lamination layer was not cut through.  The reason is unknown but probably because the end mill was not sharp enough.   Without cutting through nicely, additional sanding work was required.
  • Some dogbones were missing.  However the mistake did not cause a problem to assembly.


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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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