Yesterday I had the enjoyable experience of listening to the mid term presentations of the PCI Foundation funded studio at the University of Michigan led by Glenn Wilcox. Sitting in on these presentations was a little bit like having a small window to the future of precast concrete fabrication.
This studio, which is part of the Masters of Science in Digital Technologies, is intended to engage students with the precast industry and is the capstone studio in the post-professional, research-based degree. It is unlike some of our other programs that are more focused on the architectural design rather than the manufacturing process. This studio is poised to consider the design and production of precast architecture as a form of advanced building research. The students use the resources available in the digital lab that allows them to leverage the power of computationally-based design and numerically-controlled machines toward new methodologies, materials, and systems of production. For the precasters involved with this project, Kerkstra Precast and International Precast Solutions, the students work was challenging and engaging - unlike what we typically see produced, but new ideas that can unleash the possibility for new uses of precast concrete.
In describing the course, Glenn Wilcox writes "Primary to the studio will be the understanding and implementation of fabrication techniques and production methods in the development of the precast elements. One of the intriguing potentials of the studio is the fact that precast touches upon a breadth of technologies and fabrication methods." Six student groups or individuals presented their projects - which all took on different shapes, form, and used a variety of digital fabrication techniques. The final form depended in part on the student's design and the type of fabrication techniques they were using. Techniques available to the students included:
• Robotically hotwire cut EPS foam molds for casting
• Robotically bent and placed reinforcing rod
• Manual or robotically placed pre-preg carbon fiber reinforcing
• Three-axis or 5-axis milled molds for casting
• Water-jet metal formwork for casting
• Automated knife cut plastic or fabric forms for casting
• Post-cast robotic milling or water-jet cutting
• A select molding process and GFRC
Students work was dramatically different, not only in terms of the equipment used to create it, but also in the the final design look and possible uses for the future. Folding concrete that could be shipped flat, using shrink wrap technques to create the mold, and 3-D pieces that could form a dome or wall were all presented.
Each PCI Foundation studio takes a unique approach to teaching students about precast. We hope to work with more than just architecture schools to advance the design, fabrication, and construction of precast concrete systems in the future.