Harvard GSD M.Arch.I (Lian)

Lectures and exhibitions, life in the trays, happenings around the GSD and beyond.

  • ContemPLAY: Adventures in full-scale digital fabrication (interview with Sophie Wilkin from McGill)

    Hi Archinect!

    M.Arch. students from my alma mater, McGill School of Architecture, have designed and built a steel and wood pavilion that they’re calling ContemPLAY, and I recently sat down with team member Sophie Wilkin (via text chat) to find out more. Here’s an edited version of our chat:

    me: Hi Sophie!

    sophie.wilkin: Hey!

    me: I wanted to start by asking about the setup of the project pedagogically within the school.

    sophie.wilkin: It started as a student initiative—we wanted to learn about parametric design from Maria Mingallon, as the Gerald Sheff teacher at McGill.

    me: from Arup, right?

    sophie.wilkin: Right. We hadn’t had the opportunity to learn and manipulate parametric models during undergrad and M1 [the first year of the M.Arch. program] and Maria’s presence at McGill encouraged us to propose something new for McGill architecture students: the transition from designing with computer tools to fabrication.

    me: The last year or two of my PhD at McGill (I guess 2008 or 2009) was when the school got the CNC router; so was this the first really big project using this and other digital fabrication techniques?

    sophie.wilkin: Yes, ContemPLAY is the largest project we’ve used the CNC router for up to now.

    me: Can you give me a sense of the design process?

    sophie.wilkin: The design process started with 3 teams of 5 students each, and 3 sets of concepts emerged based on the potential of parametric design, on how producing 3D models based on geometry and construction might be explored. After various group discussions, we decided to mix the 3 teams’ ideas to generate the pavilion:

    Team 1 gave us the moiré idea
    Team 2 gave us the möbius idea
    Team 3 gave us the triangular structure/space fame

    me: right

    sophie.wilkin: So the final concept puts together ideas from 15 people which works well!

    me: WOW, that's pretty cool. The result is quite elegant (congratulations by the way) so I wouldn't have guessed it was a compromise or design by committee. But you must have done some serious work figuring out which ideas from which teams and people would go well together!

    sophie.wilkin: yes!

    me: Was this contentious–was it difficult to agree on the design?

    sophie.wilkin: Not really, because once we decided on the directions for the concept, we split in other teams with specific elements to focus on…such as the general aesthetic/design, structure, details, materials constraints, money, etc.

    me: I see. So everyone had their area of responsibility and expertise—so that people weren't trying to claim authorship in the exact same areas?

    sophie.wilkin: yes!

    me: What was your responsibility?

    sophie.wilkin: My main responsibility was material supplying and feasibility! Because I speak French, I could easily deal with local materials companies for info on steel tubes, galvanization, plywood prices, bolts, etc. The local material suppliers taught me so much information about fabrication and assembly, the limits and constraints related to their products, and the precautions to take so that it works safely.

    me: that's great! Had you done this kind of work before?

    sophie.wilkin: No, I hadn't done that before. I really enjoyed the passion the fabricators have for their products.

    me: Can you give an example of one moment in particular when some advice that you got from the suppliers affected the design or construction process?

    sophie.wilkin: We had to do extra holes on the tubes because air has to go through the tube during the hot-dip galvanization process. Without 2 little holes at each extremity, it would have exploded.

    me: oh!

    sophie.wilkin: This is why we had to ask CANAM (steel supplier) to add those holes to our workshop drawings

    me: I think I can see some of the holes in the pictures. These are the holes that do not have any bolts in them?
    sophie.wilkin: Yes.

    me: ahhh—I see from the ContemPLAY site that you're doing an M.Eng. in construction management at the same time! Smart move.

    sophie.wilkin: Yes, it was an excellent way to connect my interests with my role in the pavilion! I also did a lot of work manually—wood lamination, sanding, assembling.

    me: Did everyone take part in the physical construction work?

    sophie.wilkin: Not everyone could, but we were assisted by other architecture friends, teachers, and family.

    me: Ah yes, from the video I can see that you worked long hours. What was Jason’s involvement on the project?

    sophie.wilkin: It was Jason Crow who initiated us on the machines—how to work with it and how to find ways to resolve fabrication complexities of different parts—moirés vs. ribs vs. wood joints.

    sophie.wilkin: Having so many parts was part of the challenge! We initiated a labeling system—each part has a name based on its position and connections. The complexity of the structure was based on the potential of Grasshopper, the tool we were exploring. The 3D model allowed us to precisely simulate every material connection and it’s thickness, then adapt it and play with it depending on the structural pieces’ dimensions.

    me: Yes, that was something that amazed me! At the GSD in digital fabrication projects, it seems that people usually try to rationalize the geometry to get a smaller number of repeatable parts. That is not the way you went with this project! What was the thinking there—to test the capacities of CNC?

    sophie.wilkin: Not to test the capacities of the CNC, but to test our geometrical skills to resolve a structure and its components, something exploratory. Because it is a pavilion, we were looking at it more like an urban sculpture, than as a generic repeatable structure.

    me: Ah. Maximum beauty and badassery.

    sophie.wilkin: For sure! A real learning by doing! With some setbacks. It is a bit too ambitious and complicated. We didn't think it was going to take 21 months to built and raise money for this project, but our motivation and determination to do something to be proud of and for McGill push us to continue. (I guess we just have a great naïvité!)

    me: One other thing I wanted to ask about is the structure, in relation to this colored diagram. I'm going to embarrass myself by asking if the RED is...tension and the PURPLE is...compression?

    sophie.wilkin: Yes, it is a structural diagram from Maria.  Red is tension, purple is compression—yes.

    me: woot! :P

    sophie.wilkin: She put our models in an engineering software to size the required structural pieces to support the cantilivered part of the möbius—the tube dimensions that we then put in the Grasshopper code to make sure there was no interference.

    me: so the tube thicknesses change?

    sophie.wilkin: oh yes! Depending on the dimensions, availability and possibilities of tubes offered by our sponsor!

    me: Ah! So in retrospect would you have preferred to simplify it a bit?

    sophie.wilkin: We would all agree on that! Well, not to simplify the structure, but to reduce the scale of the pavilion. It is a huge structure!

    me: It’s a pretty impressive space. I guess the photos and drawings would look just as good at a smaller scale, but as a space it is impressive that it is so large!

    sophie.wilkin: Go big or go home, I know, but its scale was not that easy to manipulate and organize in term of space, storage, costs, our capacity in terms of assembling on site.

    me: Has most of the team has graduated now?

    sophie.wilkin: Every member has graduated now! Most in 2011, and one in June 2012.

    me: Congrats! What is your current job?

    sophie.wilkin: I work at MRA architecture + design, mainly with steel fabrication in relation with code, workshop tasks, budget, and site construction. And I do design, city meetings, construction drawings—an authentic M.Arch. intern!

    me: Sounds exciting. Learning lots I guess?

    sophie.wilkin: Oh yes! Big responsibility—I really love it!

    me: It sounds like you're putting your education to great use. Congratulations on that and to the whole team on the pavilion.

    sophie.wilkin: Thank you Lian!
    me: Thank you, Sophie! That was great—I enjoyed hearing more about the process. Have a good night!

    Thanks for reading!

    Credits: ContemPLAY is a student initiative at McGill School of Architecture, designed and built as part of the M.Arch. program’s Directed Research Studio (DRS) in collaboration with Maria Mingallon from Arup (Gerald Sheff Visiting Professor),  Jason Crow (PhD Candidate) and Michael Jemtrud (Associate Professor) from the school’s digital research lab--FARMM (Facility for Architectural Research and Media Mediation). All photos provided by ContemPLAY; video by Natali Film for ContemPLAY.

  • A Single Surface, Multiple Players: Design and Construction of the Stair for the BSA Space

    Hi Archinect! It's been a while--I've been enjoying summer! But I did find time to chat with Eric Höweler (Höweler + Yoon Architecture), Patrick McCafferty (Arup Boston), Jason Smith (Commodore Builders), and Tom Couturier (Couturier Iron Craft) about their collaboration on the stair...

    Patrick McCafferty: “Arup’s in-house finite element software was used to analyze the dynamic response of the stair in order to fine-tune the structural design and detailing requirements.” This video, courtesy Arup Boston, shows the stress contours as load is applied to the stair.

  • Live Blog: Marikka Trotter and K. Michael Hays

    Hi Archinect! I’m at the very beautiful Cambridge Public Library (by William Rawn Associates) for a conversation between Marikka Trotter (co-editor with Esther Choi of Architecture at the Edge of Everything Else) and K. Michael Hays, who was co-author together with Trotter of...

  • Live Blog: Scott Cohen and Nader Tehrani, "my house is better than your house"

    Hi Archinect! This one is for the lols. The GSD's Scott Cohen and Nader Tehrani, Head of the Department of Architecture at MIT, are having a friendly lunchtime debate--as illustrated by the hot air rising from each house in the poster. 12:10: Scott opens things, describing his close and collegial...

  • Live Blog: Margaret Livingstone, "What Art can tell us about the Brain"

    Hi Archinect! I'm at MIT today for Margaret Livingstone's lecture on visual perception. She'll be talking about how works of visual art can inform us about how we see. (Her excellent book with many visual games and informative optical illusions is called Vision and Art: the biology of seeing.)...

  • note to incoming GSD and Career Discovery students about housing

    Hello, Sorry to abuse my blog in this way, but this is just to reach out to incoming GSD (and MIT) students, as well as GSD Career Discovery summer students, who are looking for apartments. We have a Facebook group with almost 300 members called 'Harvard GSD Housing' where you can post ads...

  • video: Marc Simmons, you talk pretty

    Hi Archinect! I wasn't able to live blog last night's lecture by Marc Simmons from Front, but it's just as well, as he talks so articulately that it's better to watch the video yourself, at the GSD's YouTube channel. It was a great presentation of Front's façade consultation and...

  • Live Blog: One Harvard: Lectures that Last

    Hi Archinect! I'm at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square for the Harvard Graduate Council's 'One Harvard: Lectures that Last.' Top professors from each of Harvard's twelve schools have been rounded up to to give a talk:     Roland Baron | Harvard School of Dental Medicine...

  • maps

    Hi Archinect! By now, you've probably seen Google's April 1 release of its 8-bit map for NES. But have you seen this real-time animated map of wind in the United States? And this Metro Distortion Map that shows the travel time to stations in Washington DC? And Mapnificent, which shows what places...

    Google Maps 8-bit for NES

  • Live Blog: George Baird

    Hi Archinect! George Baird is giving a lunchtime lecture today, hosted by the student groups CanadaGSD and LandGSD. Baird is the former Dean (2004-2009) of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, and is a partner in the Toronto-based architecture and urban design firm...

  • Wide Open: Young designers discuss their professional horizons and architecture’s future

    [Photo by Julie Chen for ArchitectureBoston] Hi Archinect! ArchitectureBoston, a quarterly publication of the Boston Society of Architects, is undergoing a change in leadership. The founding editor, Elizabeth Padjen, is stepping down after fourteen years of service and Renée Loth, a Boston...

  • Live Blog: Rosalind Williams, "Infrastructure of Lived Experience"

    Hi Archinect! 6:25: I have springtime allergies here and would rather be at home...but here I blogging Rosalind Williams' keynote lecture for this weekend's Landscape Infrastructure conference. The conference, organized by GSD Landscape professor Pierre Bélanger, is subtitled...

  • Apeira: architectural speculation

    Hi Archinect! Just to mention that my former roommate, recent GSD M.Arch.II grad (and thesis prize winner) Etien Santiago, has launched a new print and online journal called 'Apeira.' The first issue includes: The Whole of Apeira / Etien Santiago Fêlure in Humans and Machines / Lea Anglais...

  • Comment: GPS-based social networking, or the death of the flâneur

    Although I'm actually pretty keen on the potentials of pervasive computing, the current hype about GPS-based social networking apps makes me uneasy. The idea is that your mobile device will be able to tell you when somebody in your vicinity has or shares certain interests (or other...

  • Live Blog: Rem Koolhaas

    Hi Archinect! Koolhaas in the haas. Omagawd! [Photo from Chauhaus--our cafeteria--courtesy of Paul Cattaneo.] Koolhaas just introduced the study-abroad Rotterdam studio he's teaching in the fall, and now...he's giving a talk called "Current Preoccupations," with Q+A led by Sanford Kwinter and K...

  • Live Blog: "Ethics of the Urban: the City and the Spaces of the Political"

    Hi Archinect, I'm sitting on the floor in a very stuffy, very tiny room for the last session of this weekend's conference, "Ethics of the Urban: the City and the Spaces of the Political." Gerald Frug and Richard Sennett are speaking, moderated by Neil Brenner. 4:45: Gerald Frug: "Richard Sennett...

  • Live Blog: Saskia Sassen, "Immigrants and Citizens in the Global City"

    Hi Archinect! The sultry r&b is playing, and Saskia Sassen is in front of the gold curtain this Friday night for the keynote lecture of the conference, "Ethics of the Urban: the City and the Spaces of the Political." This is the third in a series of conferences organized by Dean Mostafavi...

  • Live Blog: Samuel Klein, "Future of Civic Participation: Lessons from the cult of Wikipedians"

    Hi Archinect, I'm at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government tonight for a talk with Samuel Klein, Trustee at Wikipedia. It's a small crowd, but we'll see how it goes. 6:43: How ironic, we're starting with some technical difficulties. 6:44: SK is asking who has started a Wikipedia entry that...

  • Live Blog: Richard Sennett, "The Architecture of Cooperation"

    Hi Archinect! I'm a bit under the weather today, but this is one not to miss. Richard Sennett, the GSD's Senior Loeb Fellow for 2012 (and faculty member at New York University and the London School of Economics) is talking about the "Architecture of Cooperation": “The theme of the lecture...

  • Live Blog: “Design Technologies as Agents of Change,” with Bock, Seletsky, Oxman, Rocker, and Bechthold.

    Hi Archinect! Tonight's event is called “Design Technologies as Agents of Change,” with Thomas Bock (TU Munich), Paul Seletsky (ArcSphere New York), Rivka Oxman (Technion Haifa), and Ingeborg Rocker (GSD). Moderated by Martin Bechthold (GSD). Three Germans tonight! 6:32: It's still a...

  • Live Blog: Philip Glass

    Hi Archinect, We're back in full Piper, eagerly awaiting Philip Glass. I'm not sure what will happen. Our website says that "Mr. Glass will speak on the theme of collaboration and the creative process and, through brief performances, share selections from his oeuvre." [Photo by Fernando Aceves...

  • Live Blog: Tom Stocky (from Facebook) at MIT Media Lab

    Hi Archinect! I'm at the Media Lab for a talk with Tom Stocky, Director of Product Management at Facebook. His presentation is called "Design, Hack, Ship: How we build products at Facebook," and it was billed as offering "a glimpse into what happened behind the scenes of the initial News Feed...

  • Live Blog: Patrik Schumacher

    Hi Archinect! Patrik Schumacher, partner at Zaha Hadid Architects and founding director at the AA Design Research Lab, is in Piper tonight for a lecture on "Parametric Order: 21st century architectural order." [You can see the video online at the GSD's YouTube Channel.] 6:36pm: PSC takes the...

  • Live Blog: Diana Balmori and Joel Sanders on Landscape and Architecture

    Hi Archinect! [Left to right: Charles Waldheim, Diana Balmori, Joel Sanders, Mohsen Mostafavi, Ben Prosky (facing away), and Chris Reed in Piper Auditorium before the lecture.] Balmori and Sanders are in Piper tonight, talking about their book Groundwork: Between Landscape and Architecture. I...

  • Live Blog: Preston Scott Cohen speaks with Nicolai Ouroussoff about his new Herta and Paul Amir Building, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

    Hi Archinect! We're in "full Piper" with a full house for the GSD's first public event of 2012, called "Museum as Genealogy"--and it's all Scott. [Added note as of Jan 29]: For many of us as GSD architecture students, this kind of event is anticipated as a moment when some of the most important...

  • final work...finally!

    Oh hello there, Archinect! Finals were a blur and vacation was the best, and here we are back in the trays yet again. Oh, I have so many things to tell you. But first, my project from last semester! A twelve lane highway runs under the entire site. I was building on air-rights over this highway...

  • one week left!

    Hi Archinect! We have one week left before our final review and the plan is to finish my model today. Actually, the plan was to finish it yesterday, but this morning I realized that this was unrealistic. If I can finish the model today, then I'll have six days for drawings, which is still tight...

  • Finals...

    Hi Archinect! This is just a quick update as we head into our last few weeks before studio finals. Things are going well and I'm just buckling down to focus on representation techniques and the specifics of my design, so that things don't become a complete shit-show in December. I'm gonna hold...

  • Live Blog: Wang Shu, Geometry and Narrative of Natural Form

    Hi Archinect! It's Open House day at the GSD, so we're in "full Piper" (using the entire auditorium) for a lecture by Wang Shu from Amateur Architecture Studio. The video is now viewable at the GSD website and the GSD's YouTube channel. 4:05 pm: A long and laudatory introduction from Scott. He's...

  • Midterm work: systems, not forms.

    Hi Archinect! We had our midterm last Wednesday and I am finally rousing myself out of my post-review sloth and pleasure-chasing (and yes, it was glorious) in order to post some images. I've already posted photos of our site. And you may have seen the video of my critics' public lecture at the...

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About this Blog

Lectures and exhibitions, life in the trays, happenings around Cambridge...and once in a while, some studio and course work. Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in most cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts. If you have concerns about how you are quoted, please contact me via Archinect's email.

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  • Lian Chikako Chang

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