Soft Bricks: Experiential Design of Structural Systems for Introductory Architectural Studios

Soft Bricks: Experiential Design of Structural Systems for Introductory Architectural Studios

Academic Year:
2013 - 2014 (June 1, 2013 through May 31, 2014)
Funding Requested:
Project Dates:
Overview of the Project:
The project will create a workshop for the introductory undergraduate architecture studio that teaches basic structural principals of design through an experiential series of form-finding exercises. Although an understanding of structures is an essential component of any architectural design, formal instruction in the mathematics and physics of structural systems occurs outside the studio environment. The proposed workshop would introduce students to basic structural concepts from the very beginning of their design education through hands-on experimentation in studio with "Soft Bricks," a system of pliable, stacking units that encourage students to deduce principals of structure by observing the behavior of materials under load. The outcome of this project will be twofold: an installation in the Taubman College gallery illustrating the possible outcomes and teaching potential of the Soft Brick structural form-finding method; and a manual offered to instructors to guide implementation of the workshop.
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:

The project has three primary objectives: 1) to integrate structural form-finding into the core architecture design studio sequence and build students’ intuitive understanding of statics before formal instruction in the mathematical and technical principals of conventional structures; 2) to expand students’ understanding of structural principals to include pliable material systems in addition to the rigid material systems more commonly found in contemporary architecture; 3) to expand the catalog of known stacked and unit-based structural systems.

Project Achievements:

The pedagogical approach developed during the research phase was successfully integrated into the curriculum of two studios and several workshops: the 4th-year undergraduate capstone studio, the 3rd-year graduate thesis capstone studio, and several workshops held at UM and other institutions. Additionally, the initial period funded by CRLT was used to establish an ongoing research group that includes summer graduate research assistants and undergraduate research assistants during the academic year.

The project is continuing during the 2014-2015 academic year with research into an expanded catalog of materials to improve structural capacity and durability. Forms discovered during the first phase of the project are being tested with concrete- and resin-impregnated fabrics to create more durable assemblies at the scale of architecture. Goals for student learning are expanding beyond form-finding exercises to material and tectonic exploration.
Student work from the project has been exhibited in galleries at the University of Michigan, at the University of Ohio, and is scheduled to be shown at the University of Queensland in August of 2014. Products of the initial research have been published in Pidgin at Princeton University and are currently being edited for publication in other venues.