California College of the Arts

California College of the Arts

San Francisco, CA


Biodynamic Structures Workshop a Big Draw for International Architects and Students

By Clay Walsh
Nov 17, '11 5:42 PM EST
The Biodynamic Structures final review held in the CCA Nave was open to the public. Photo Credit: Andrew Kudless
The Biodynamic Structures final review held in the CCA Nave was open to the public. Photo Credit: Andrew Kudless

Posted to CCA's website on Monday, November 7, 2011, by Jim Norrena

For a second year in a row California College of the Arts hosted the summer Biodynamic Structures architecture workshop. The annual two-week intensive workshop, which took place July 11-22 on the San Francisco campus, is made possible through the Visiting School Program of the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London.

CCA assistant professors in Architecture MEDIAlab Jason Kelly Johnson and Andrew Kudless each serves as co-organizer and instructor of the workshop, which attracted over 50 attendees, including students, academics, and professionals who came to the college from all over the world.

Johnson and Kudless taught in collaboration this year with visiting faculty from the AA EmTech Programme (London); Pratt Institute; Harvard University; Lift architects (Boston); Studio Mode (New York); and with structural engineers from Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM).

About Biodynamic Structures

The Biodynamic Structures workshop provides students with the opportunity to engage simultaneously with both the theoretical aspects of biomimetics and integrated design processes as well as the technical tools essential for the realization of design outcomes. Students have the opportunity to explore adaptive and responsive systems in architecture that are capable of interacting with their context, both environmental and social, in a context-specific brief.

Johnson commented: “The workshop is a remarkable opportunity for CCA to collaborate with faculty from the AA, which is one of the leading architecture schools in the world. The summer workshop format is also an opportunity for us to explore ideas that have not yet gained acceptance in mainstream architectural education. It is a chance for us to take risks and work experimentally with the visiting faculty, lecturers, and students.”

The focus of the annual workshop is to investigate biological principles as potential catalysts for architectural and structural experimentation via a focus on composite material explorations, the use of genetic algorithms for structural design and optimization, and the investigation of the crossbreeding of robotics with architecture.

These investigations were explored through the use of cutting-edge parametric modeling software such as Grasshopper, Firefly, Kangaroo, and Arduino, the open-source software and microcontroller platform.

CCA Facilities

One of the benefits of hosting the workshop on CCA's San Francisco campus is that it allows students the use of the Rapid Prototyping Lab, including the CNC mill, laser cutters, vacuum formers, and more. Learn more about CCA's studio resources.

Leading Architectural Designers & Thinkers

In addition to software and hardware tutorials, the workshop included lectures by some of the leading designers and thinkers in the field of biodynamic structures, including but not limited to:

  • Michael Weinstock, Architectural Association School of Architecture academic head and author
  • Dr. Toni Kotnik, Swiss structural engineer from the AA and ETH Zurich
  • Bill Kreysler, composites expert and Bay Area fabricator
  • Mark Sarkisian and David Shook, Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) structural engineers
  • Thom Faulders, CCA associate professor of Architecture
  • David Gissen, theorist-historian, CCA associate professor of Architecture

Additional talks were given by visiting instructors Evan Greenberg and Christina Doumpioti from the AA EmTech Programme; Andy Payne from Harvard University; Ronnie Parsons and Gil Akos from Pratt/StudioMode in New York; Rip DeLeon from Future Cities Lab; Ben Golder; local electronics experts Scott Minneman and Michael Shiloh; and Nicholas Riddle and CCA model making studio manager Marty Marfin, both experts in natural-fiber composites, mold making, and casting.

The workshops were sponsored by Robert McNeel & Associates (the makers of Rhino and Grasshopper) and SOM San Francisco, led by design partner Craig W. Hartman.

According to Kudless: “We were able to bring together a world-class group of instructors and guest lecturers to help us better understand the creative and technical potential of integrating biological ideas into architecture. It is exciting to teach a workshop and also feel like your own thinking on a subject is being enriched and expanded.”

Final Presentations

The final products of the workshop included scaled models, working robotic prototypes, drawings, and animations that were exhibited in the Nave at July 22. A group of distinguished local critics, CCA faculty, and the public were invited to see the work and participate in an open discussion.

Workshop participants were on hand to present and celebrate the extraordinary work produced in just a few days. Said Johnson: “We were thrilled with the results of the workshop and we look forward to keeping in touch with the various participants as they return to their local institutions or practices. We are excited to be teaching the next generation of experimental designers and thinkers. The Biodynamic Structures workshop is a powerful model for rapidly pushing ideas forward in a highly synthetic manner. We hope the participants can continue to explore these ideas in more depth in the years to come.”

More Information

Learn more about CCA’s Architecture MEDIAlab
Visit the 2011 Biodynamic Structures Flickr set for additional images.

About CCA's Architecture Division
Undergraduate Program
The Bachelor of Architecture Program is a five-year, NAAB-accredited program committed to experiments in alternative models of practice, design, and fabrication. The curriculum accordingly brings developments in culture, media, and technology to bear on the process of architectural production, allowing students to capitalize on new opportunities in a rapidly changing profession.

[Learn more, including how to apply]

Graduate Program
The Master of Architecture Program focuses on material innovation, research, application, and resourcefulness within a larger social and cultural context. While providing a well-rounded architectural education, the program engages physically and digitally with old, new, and emerging building materials and systems to explore architecture as a critical and evolving practice. Digital craft, design research, interdisciplinary engagement, alternative models, and global involvement and exchange are emphasized.

[Learn more, including how to apply]