Make Architecture



#12 – Final – Tesselated Circuit

When I was searching for a way to integrate the skills we learned this semester with an architectural installation or concept, I came across a project of a UCLA architecture studio led by Heather Roberge.

The idea was to use one hexagonal panel and aggregate it with rotation over a wall to create variation of an unexpected quality. The benefit (and interest) of tesselation here is that you get to make just one component, but throughout the system it plays a variety of roles and doesn’t just look like the same thing repeated over and over again.

The project is also in Lisa Iwamoto’s “Digital Fabrications” book, where I also found a similar (in construction, if not concept) project: The Alice project by Florencia Pita mod. (both of these projects are from 2007).  Here, unique panels are fabricated on the cnc, then for the effect of continuity, vacuformed with laminated vinyl PETG.

What is exciting here is the direct relationship between the project as designed in three dimensions, and its ultimate incarnation. The laminating/vacuforming serves to unify the panels and also to give them some structural stability, while still remaining lightweight.

One of the things I do when I look at those tesselated panels is try to follow a ridge throughout the entire wall and derive some sort of visual pattern. This is clearly what the Satin Sheet Project was getting at in this diagram:

After looking at it for a little while, it occurred to me that perhaps you could treat the purely aesthetic elements, the ridges, the pattern, as something operative, something that could produce effects based on the tesselated panels’ rotations. What follows is an attempt to make this idea a reality.

This project has three (or four) (or many more, depending on how you count) components:

1. the hexagonal panel with tesselating pattern of ridges,

2. the lightbulb which contains LEDs and conductive material through which a circuit can pass… with the negative and positive sides well separated.

3. the triangular connecting panel: this is imperative because it is what holds the lightbulbs in place, and by holding those, grips the panels together into a rigid construction.

4. the additional components, whether or not they should be actually given the same weight as the first three, are: a special nut designed to thread onto the end of the cast lightbulbs. In practice, this has proven unnecessary because the soft foam of the lightbulb has held tight enough to the connector piece. In any event, the nut should be out of a different material as the lightbulb, so that there is enough friction for the two materials to hold fast. Also, you might want some kind of stand or way to install this panel system; it could use some feet or legs down at the bottom, or special connector pieces (perhaps a part of an advanced “connector triangle” could be used for this purpose.

5. Importantly, you need to have power somewhere in this construction in order to see a circuit at all. I chose to consolidate my power inputs into one “power panel.” For that, I have three wall-plug power adapters of 4.5 volts connected to different-colored switches on the face of the panel to control what’s on and what’s off.


Making the panels:

Individual panels were contour cut together from a large sheet of 2″ insulation foam, then separated from one another using first a bandsaw and then a wire foam cutter for clean edges. The ridges you see in the panel represent a higher (in eleveation) set of connecting lines and a lower (in elevation) one… this represents the positive and negative currents running through the wires that will be here in the future, and I was hoping that the difference in elevation would translate into a two-layered transit of the electricity throughout the whole panel system. This was not really the case, but more on that later.

.5″ clear plastic tubes were then hot-glued to the appropriate ridges on the panel to ease the travel of wires in the future. The whole panel was then vacu-formed using PETG (not laminated).

Side note: I did attempt to do the same kind of vinyl lamination as seen in the precedent above, but it was not entirely successful. I found that the vinyl didn’t stretch or accept heat in the same way that the PETG that it was stuck to did, and so there were unsightly tears in the vinyl, as well as some spaces where the vinyl simply separated from the PETG and created its own shape. Very unreliable!

Once the panels were vacuformed, they were cut out from the plastic using a heavy-duty dremel. The edges of the panels were then run again through the hot wire foam cutter, which provided a shockingly clean and easy edge for the plastic. If that hadn’t worked, I would have tried bandsawing the edge, then sanding, the buffing or hot-gunning, and I don’t think any of those options would have yielded results as clean as what the hot-wire did. [I had some help in this trimming process – Lisa is a hot-wire wizard!]

The ends of the plastic tubes were reopened by drilling through the thermo-formed plastic.

Then the wires were fed through the panels, respecting the elevational difference and the Left/Right difference of positive and negative. Finally, one part DONE!

For the bulbs, I had to first make sure that the LED lights would work with my power source before actually casting them into the bulb. I found, using an online calculator, that the LED lights I purchased from, if strung in series of two, would require a 5.6 Ohm resistor. Now, as far as I can tell, 10Ohm is the lowest Radio Shack stocks. If I had learned about this resistor issue earlier, I could have ordered the proper one. As it is, I used a 10Ohm resistor after making sure (with Skylar and Varvara) that no resistor at all would certainly blow my LEDs out).

I then made little packets of these two-LED/one-resistor/pos and neg wires  so that i could easily insert them into the bulbs as I cast them.

I also made sure to check that each packet worked as I went along.

Then, I prepared some OOMOO 30 and made a mold for a lightbulb. With this I was able to begin making my own flexible foam lightbulbs with LEDs embedded inside.

I started out putting two packets of two LEDs in each bulb, but then realized that the foam conducts light very well, and that I’d rather have more bulbs than a few bright ones.

I was VERY excited when I saw the first results of the bulbs working!

Unfortunately….there are some issues with the conductivity of the material i chose to connect between the bulbs and the panels. I bought self-adhesive (with conductive adhesive) copper tape from McMaster, but it just doesn’t conduct well enough! Perhaps in a stable environment where it is taped to solid, unmoving things, this tape would work well. Sadly, here it does not.

touching wires directly

touching wires through "conductive" copper tape - no dice!!

So there were a few minor modifications to each part of my project, which has resulted in the overall semi-failure of the test. One major issue that I’m dealing with now is understanding to what degree I misunderstood circuitry before. My panel system is designed so that a positive coming in from one power source and a negative coming in from another would somehow interact with one another and create the reaction of a lightbulb going off. While I’m able to trial the lightbulbs individually, this question concerns me so much that I have not intentionally connected the components in that way for fear of a short.

As built:


In wiring this construction together and trying to work out how the circuits would come together, I’ve figured out what went wrong in my planning process. I was considering circuits as kind of open-ended things that could be spliced and diced between power sources. This is why I couldn’t initially figure out which bulbs would light up, and why, from this diagram, it seems like actually none of the bulbs should light up.

IF, instead of there being a single positive and a single negative on each side of the hexagonal panel, there were two wires coming through on each ridge, any bulb that they came into contact with would light up. The new elevational diagram would look more like this:

And this new configuration would actually yield the results I was initially looking for – an illustration of how the tesselation was influencing the travel of a current through the panel system. In this system, you truly could remove one panel, rotate it, reinsert it, and see different bulbs light up and different paths make their way through the wall.


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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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