Make Architecture



#4 – Shopbot Condo

I wanted to make a new home for some of my friends using the ShopBot.

These guys have starred in a lot of very low-production-value videos, and they never complain!

So, I found a suitably glamorous profile for their frame, measured each of them to ensure a comfortable fit on their new shelves and designed this:

To make this project you’ll need:

-about 10 hours (maybe 4 if you use my design and cutsheet)

-a ShopBot machine

-4′ x 4′ x 1/2″ MDO

-a collection of homeless scalies and figurines

(-if you make a mock-up, you’ll need a lasercutter and some 1/8″ masonite.)

To walk you through the process of design and construction…

1. I found a frame I liked online, then traced it.

2. I saved the .AI file as a .DXF, then opened it in Rhino to model all the shelves, tabs, and intersections. This was very time consuming, since there were a lot of different parts in this (19).

3. Then I made a cutsheet from all these different parts, and tried to fit it as efficiently as possible onto the 4′ x 4′ sheet of MDO, making sure to leave at least a 2″ border around the whole edge (for screwing down the board to the ShopBot bed), and at least 1″ between each of the pieces themselves. This is important because if the distance between pieces is too small, the whole board can start vibrating, and your cut will become less accurate.

3.5: the mock-up.

I wanted to make a mock-up because I couldn’t quite tell in the computer if my idea was going to work or not. The number of pieces and the proportionality between the different shelves was potentially off. Also, when I went to the tutorial, I wanted to be able to show the people who actually knew how to use the ShopBot what I was thinking of doing, in case they saw something that was particularly striking or off about it.

4. Another tricky point came when we did some material and cut tests on the ShopBot itself, because then all the parts had to be adjusted for the offsets that we were finding worked best for the day. It turns out our boards were not exactly .5″ thick, but something more like .48″. I scaled the whole cutsheet down to accommodate for the .02 change, since all parts were affected by that. THEN, and this was the tricky part because time was ticking on my appointment with the ShopBot, I had to adjust each tab, then make all the dog-bone corner shapes, so that the ShopBot could handle tight turns. This was how the ‘final cutsheet’ came out:


you can see that all the tabs and all the rectangles have additional bumps in them, to accommodate for the thickness of the bit as it attempts to take a turn. When you make the dog-bone shapes in PartWorks, it asks you what size bit you are using, then calculates how large that will make the dogbones.

5. When I was setting up the file in PartWorks, even though the material thickness was nominally .48″, at first I specified the material thickness as .51″, and the distance that the bit should travel down to cut in the Z-direction was .52″, to make sure that we got a clear cut. Further, when you specify a cut, you have to tell the machine how far down to go with each cut. Generally, you’re not supposed to go larger than the diameter of the bit you are using (.25″), so at first I specified .22″ for the depth of the cut.

When I brought my file over to the ShopBot machine, I realized that it was taking three passes around each shape in order to cut it (obviously, since each pass was set for .22″). This meant, because I had 19 pieces, a significant amount of time was added to my cut. I then changed my PartWorks file to specify a cut depth of .26, and we were good to go! This process changed my calculated cut time from 1:58:03 to 00:56:12, which was awesome, particularly considering the fact that I’d already wasted half of my cut time fixing the dogbones on my file.

The second attempt at loading a path file worked much better, and more quickly.

Something to note is the console bar at the bottom of the ShopBot running software interface screen. It tells you all sorts of information about your file and how it is running, but it doesn’t quite tell you what you think you’re getting..  This notation line down at the bottom of the screen tells you the file progress – but it’s not TIME progress in percentage, it’s the amount of data that has already been processed. In my case, the outline of the frame itself had a lot of points and complexity, so as soon as the ShopBot had finished the outline of the frame, It read that I had already completed 80% of my file (which, in cut time and volume, is just not true).

So, in the end, I had some really well-cut, smooth pieces, just as I had designed them. I also had some scrap MDO, which I cut down to manageable size and stored for future experiments!

6. All I had to do was put the thing together!

I was very lucky, in that my offsets all turned out to work well, and there wasn’t too too much friction to get the whole thing together with a rubber mallet. The hardest piece to apply was also the last piece to apply. It was the actual frame profile front piece, because it had to have four different long sides of the box inserted into it on the face. If any one piece was not fitting properly, or laying as flat as it should, this was going to be the moment of reckoning.

Luckily, it just took a good couple of whacks, and the thing was together, ready for inhabitation!

7. Post-Occupancy:


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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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