Make Architecture



#8 – Desktop Ferris Wheel

For this week’s project, the motion assignment, I decided to make a rotating desktop ferris wheel, both because ferris wheels are the only things at amusement parks that I’m not scared of, and because of how extremely useful and necessary such a device is for all desktop organizers. It should be noted that desktop organization has become a sort of de facto theme of our fabrication ideas, and this can’t be a coincidence!

SO _ I was inspired by something my father had when I was a child – a rotating tie rack

I always thought it was cool – and there is a serious functionality aspect to it, where all the things you don’t want are hidden until you push a button to get them. This is also true of dry-cleaning stores in New York, and perhaps other places, though I’ve never been in a dry cleaner anywhere but NYC.

To do this project, you’re going to need…

5 x  3/32″ hollow aluminum rods

1 x  1/8″ sheet masonite (18″ x 30″)

1x  1/8″ sheet wavy plexi (not-wavy will do, but if you’re looking for style and class, try wavy) (18″ x 32″)

white glue

hot glue

switch (available at hardware store for less than $1)

motor (23 rpm)

power supply


soldering gun


I started by designing my gears and the ferris wheel housing in rhino. I exported all of my 2d parts to AutoCAD to make separate cutsheets for the plexi and the masonite (I always do this so that I don’t confuse my materials at the time of cutting)

I used GearGen plugin to generate my gears and teeth – I decided to only use two sizes of gears because I wanted to explore the differences I could make in RPMs and torque by using a gearbox set-up, specifically one that I found illustrated on the internet and seemed easy enough to understand.

then I decided how much I would “gear down” from the 23 rpms that the motor would be turning. I made sure that when I cut just one of the smaller gear sizes, I had the appropriate sized hold for the spindle of the motor in it. Also, in the plexi cutsheet, I made sure that there was a housing for the body of the motor directly across from the gear that it would operate. This ensured that I wouldn’t have any alignment problems.

plexi cutsheet

masonite cutsheet

I cut all my parts and was ready to assemble…

First, I put together the little buggies that would fit inside the ferris wheel and form the platforms for objects. In retrospect, it might have been nice to have lips on these platforms, or make them otherwise more cup-like, since I’ve had some problems with things falling off the shelves because they’re not balanced perfectly.

Then I glued the gears together. It was important to make sure that the large gears and the small gears, when attached, were properly aligned, otherwise it would throw the whole works out of alignment!

The I put the major ferris wheel together, putting the plaform buggies in betwen the two wheels. I had some trouble because I didn’t really think through the different needs of the rods going through the whole construction. I figured that I would laser-cut the holes for the rods on the ferris wheel gear as well as the buggies at the same diameter. MISTAKE! I should have made the openings for the rods much bigger on the buggies so that they would rotate freely. AS it is, I bought thinner rods, and used hot glue to secure the ends of them in their housings.

Something VERY important that I learned after putting it together and taking it apart again, was the importance of using spacers to take up the whole area of the rod that the gear is housed on. At first I didn’t have those little cheerios (pictured below), and my gears kept rotating side to side, and getting out of line with each other. With the little disks cut and installed, there were no problems like that.

NEXT it was time to install the power works. I used a razor to take off the end of the power supply, and then split the wires so that one end (the blue) would go directly to the motor, and the other wire (the red) would be interrupted by the on/off switch. This means that I can turn the machine off without unplugging it, which is VERY important for a desktop organizer! You must be able to access your staples and erasers with ease!

Once everything was in place and my wires were sufficiently wrapped around and attached to the switches and motors, I used some solder to secure the places, so that they won’t come apart in the heavy-traffic motion of my ferris wheel.

Then I installed the motor works into the last panel of my ferris wheel’s housing. You can see here that the motor is held in only by the hole cut for it in the plexi wall. This was a good way to do the housing, because it ensures that the motor is held in exactly the correct position (lined up in rhino), and that it is directly across from the gear that it is rotating.

Not including the BIG gear (the ferris wheel itself), I’m using four gears that step down. I would estimate that the overall RPM of the objects themselves are in the neighborhood of… .4 RPM? (down from 23, that’s pretty significant)

and… voila! I’m pleased to finally have something that turned out the way I planned!


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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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