Material morphologies

Materializing discrete aggregation

by Tomáš Tholt & Kristýna Uhrová, Subdigital, 2020

Monoceros by Subdigital on Sketchfab

How to design a system of multiple weaved aggregated structures?

Internet is full of images. Creating an appealing render of unreal, digital geometries that stays within the borders of computer screens is most of the time not convincing enough to reach the wider audience outside our community. Our interest in Subdigital is therefore to transform the digital results of our design to the real world, to bridge between digital and physical.

It seemed difficult, if not impossible to fabricate and materialize a complex and compelling aggregated structure using conventional methods. Current parametric design tools are creating spectacular results on the computer screen.

Not all these geometries are possible to re-create with the limits of physics laws and fabrication methods. Most of those design tools required use of voxelization, a brute force of geometry, to turn the data into matter. It mostly required time-consuming process of 3D printing the complex objects, or tedious man-power driven work, assembling the multitude of unique components.

What if we created a method that would grant us the possibility of easier fabrication without losing the complexity?

Previously available tools were often limited to define the geometry within the limits of one material. It often takes some level of post-production, to define a coherent object with multiple materials.

In this case study we applied the Wave Function Collapse (an algorithm, at that time we were developing an implementation of this algorithm into our computational tools) in design prepared for fabrication, test the detailing of connections between elements, and to test material possibilities.

Our implementation of the WFC algorithm helps us turn data into an aggregate of well-defined discrete elements of several types that connect to each other in a prescribed way. The elements are designed with digital pre-fabrication in mind, they never overlap and never fall into a wrong place.

We defined one type of connectors for the elements of one material type. The rules defined within one type ensure, that the modules of the same type have some kind of connection or relationship between one another.

Various rules are defining how these one-material elements are aggregable within the system. Together having three materials means having three types of connectors with own rules.

Another type was then also defined due to inter-material interactions. Indifference and exclusion rules between the units of different materials ensure their coexistence and intertwined character of the structure.

WFC system of Material Morphologies is therefore based of two main ideas – rules of connections and rules of indifference and exclusion. Precisely defined connections between units of one material not only arrange a structure of predictable technical detail for physical assembly of the structure, but also creates a “flow” of material in the structure.

After all the necessary information is assigned, rules and connectivity definitions necessary for our tool using the WFC algorithm will fill a defined space. Using the design principle based on local connections, not global appearance allowed us to unify the construction details without having to compromise the formal complexity.

What if we created a system that is defined by finite number of repeating modules of different materials with its own inner rules of connectivity within itself and in between these materials?

The name Material Morphologies refers to the complex landscape of several units made of a few of materials. One material creates one layer of landscape, multiple layers coexist and intertwine, forming one object. The aggregated structure creates coherent flow of materials with changing spatial characteristics. We evaluated the structure by aesthetic and spatial criteria, considering it to be a proto-architectural object.

We have developed a design-oriented version of the Wave Function Collapse aggregation method that can be later used for partial tasks in architectural design. A software tool that can be used to generate a multitude of abstract and applied examples in various scales.

The whole WFC system follows and obeys the laws of a rasterized 3D space. Discreet elements were designed with the intent to behave and fit within this kind of space as well. Of course, that does not necessarily mean to stay trapped within the borders of boxes with the design of discreet elements entirely.

The inevitable requirement for the algorithm to successfully compute the result are the locations of the connectors. It is the location between two slot faces of the invisible rasterized space that holds all the information, all the rules and relationships necessary for assembling pieces together.

How to turn the digital image into a physical object?

This project was a part of the Studio Architecture III Vysoká škola uměleckoprůmyslová v Praze exhibition at Designblok, Prague International Design Festival 2020. Many thanks to our team!

Miriam Löscher (FAD STU, Die Angewandte), Alexander Kupko, Eva Kvaššayová (UMPRUM), Ľuba Ondrejkovičová (FAD STU), Hugo Fekar (UMPRUM), Ján Pernecký (UMPRUM / Subdigital), Tomáš Tholt (FAD STU / Subdigital), Janči Tóth (Subdigital), Michaela Krpalová (AFAD / Subdigital), Kristýna Uhrová (Subdigital).

The great work on the digital fabrication of components was done by 4from media, sro and Colab Slovakia.