Tangential Fabrications

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Computer



Jan '12 - Aug '13

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    Fabricated at Michigan: La Voûte de LeFevre

    Aaron Willette
    Aug 8, '12 1:25 AM EST

    As I mentioned previous, I'm going to try to get into some of the work thats been goes on here at the University of Michigan FABlab. Truth be told I probably spend more time at my desk in the lab than I do at my apartment, so I see a lot of project come through the doors. Not many people outside of the school (or sometimes outside of the lab) hear or see these projects so its become a pet project of mine to spread the word.

    Some of the work I first covered in the Research Through Making post and my Distort Windows project page are just some examples of what goes on here. In no way do I think that UMich is unique for this, as every school has fantastic work that doesn't garner much praise outside of its home court. But since I'm a fabrication junkie and so much of what I see is fabrication-based, I think its worth talking about. Plus who would want to read about my growing appreciation for PPE? Nobody. So with further ado... La Voûte de LeFevre.

    Alright, so if you're familiar with this project or the LeFevre Fellowship you might be wonder why this is being written about in regards to UMich. For the rest of you: La Voûte de LeFevre was the culmination of Brandon Clifford's LeFevre Fellowship at the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University this past year. Additionally, both Wikipedia and my teenage niece tell me that OSU and Michigan are huge football rivals, and people around here take their college football a bit too seriously. So why is a Wolverine talking about a Buckeye project? Primarily because I don't pay attention to football, but also because Brandon is a partner with Wes McGee (the director of the UMich FABlab) in Matter Design Studio. So when project required machinery not available at OSU it made sense for Brandon to drive up to Ann Arbor and take care of that work here in our shop. Being Wes's GSRA I got involved with the project, and here we are.

    A fair amount has been written about the inquiry posed by this project already, and thankfully I'm not here to get into that as I wouldn't be able to do the work justice. I became involved with things after the installation had been designed and it came time to start fabricating the 200+ unique pieces. The edge of each piece was ruled-surface which for feasibility's sake required they be cut on one of the shop's more recent additions, the 5-axis fixed gantry router

    Here's a simplified version of the fabrication process:

    • Reconstruct each piece from stacked plywood profiles
    • Cut plywood profiles on 3-axis machine
    • Laminate sets of assembled profiles onto a 4'x8' board on vacuum table
    • Finish cut laminated sets on 5-axis machine

    It looks easy but it took a while to do. I wish I kept count of how many glue sessions we did, but after a while they all started to blur together. Luckily Brandon is fantastic at project documentation so we have it on video which I've included below.

    Once that process was repeated over and over, we eventually had all the parts. Then we skewered them up, put them in the back of a U-Haul that we attached supports to, and on a rainy night drove them 3 hours to Columbus, Ohio. I was driving solo in Brandon's car and took the opportunity to listen to some of the local talk radio which was clearly of the evangelical Christian variety. Despite how much I disagree with it I really enjoy turning it on while driving - by the time we got to our destination my hunch that I was going to hell had been confirmed.

    After a long morning of unpacking and organizing, the assembly process began. I stayed in Columbus for a couple days working on things before I had to get back to my own studies. Talking through the assembly process and all the kinks we had to deal with along the way would take forever, but rest assured that we ran into them. Beams are never where they are in the as-builts, pieces don't fit together as perfectly as planned and the acceptable levels of 'percussive persuasion' increases dramatically depending on how hungry and/or tired you are.


    When I returned north I left knowing it was in able hands - the FABlab assistant director Maciej Kaczynski had come down to lend a hand and Brandon had amassed an amazing team of students, faculty and friends. I returned to Columbus for the gallery opening about a week later to see the project fully assembled. Although everyone involved was confident it would stand properly there's always a worry that something could go horribly wrong. Of course nothing did and the project looked phenomenal as Brandon's photos clearly show. If you're in the area I recommend trying to check it out, as I believe the project still stands in the Banvard Gallery at the KSA.


    La Voûte de LeFevre
    prin­ci­pal: Bran­don Clif­ford + Wes McGee

    project team: Jake Hag­gmark, Maciej Kaczyn­ski, Aaron Wil­lette

    build team: Edgar Ascaño, Kristy Bal­liet, Kather­ine Ben­nette, Beth Blostein, Jenna Bolino, Chris Car­bone, Tim Cousino, Anthony Gagliardi, Brian Koehler, Dar­win Men­ji­var, Paul Miller, Tony Nguyen, Bart Overly, Aaron Pow­ers, Steve Sarver, Katy Vic­cel­lio, Sean Zielin­ski

    acknowl­edge­ments: Project fund­ing by the Howard E. LeFevre ‘29 Emerg­ing Prac­ti­tioner Fel­low­ship, Fab­ri­ca­tion sup­port by the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan TCAUP FABLab, Nest­ing Soft­ware pro­vided by TDM Solutions


    I'd like to take a moment to thank Brandon Clifford for the opportunity to get involved with this project and for hosting me when I came out to lend a hand with thing. Over the past year I've gotten to know Brandon through his visits to UMich and this project, and I honestly believe he's one to be watching in the coming years.

    La Voûte de LeFevre Fabrication

    • 1 Comment

    • cnrwood

      I kept wondering what those were lying around the FabLab... really beautiful project.

      Aug 17, 12 4:55 pm

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