Students use Complex Computer Analysis to Generate Seemingly Impossible Plastic Pavilion

Students use Complex Computer Analysis to Generate Seemingly Impossible Plastic Pavilion

Testing the limits of structural viability and computer-based modeling, the 2017 Komorebi Pavilion used thin sheets of polyethylene terephthalate (PETG) in a unique way to develop an ethereal, self-supporting enclosure. The pavilion is the result of a collaboration between architecture students at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) and engineering researchers at the University of Tokyo.

© Maggie Janik

The project, spanning six months, was lead by Cambridge-based architect Mark Mulligan (Associate Professor in Practice, GSD) and Tokyo-based structural engineer Jun Sato (Associate Professor, Tokyo University), who first met in July 2016 to organize the framework for the project. A charrette in November 2016 at GSD asked 60 students to design a free-standing, occupiable pavilion that uses only the 3/32” sheets of PETG. The project sought to explore how the application of advanced computational analysis could be used to design, fabricate and assemble redundant structural forms.

© Maggie Janik

Komorebi – a Japanese word describing the spatial effects of “sunlight streaming through trees” was offered by Sato as the thematic driver of the design, encouraging the students to consider the conditions of light and enclosure, and use 2D Spectrum Analysis software to test the effects of random light-scattering. This would also have the effect of de-emphasizing the structural legibility of the system.

Algorithms Sato and his team has developed to convert free-form configurations into structural analysis models. Image © Maggie Janik
© Maggie Janik

The idea was to push the boundaries of the material, connection possibilities and the form produced. No additional materials or connectors were allowed. The students were challenged to avoid conventionally “stable” structural forms in order to test the viability of irregular shapes.

© Maggie Janik
© Maggie Janik

Three teams were selected at the end of the charrette to merge their best ideas into a single design scheme that would be developed over the following two months using physical and computer modeling and exchanging sketches and data with Sato’s team in Tokyo. A variety of modular geometries were analyzed for their ability to interlock in different configurations, orientations, angles, and distances to other modules.

The process was not without trial. Early mock-ups of the joinery proved the PETG sheets to be more prone to bending than expected. Rigidity was increased through the use of heat-slumping – introducing double curvature. Alongside smaller scale development of module geometry and joinery options, massing schemes of the potential forms were proposed and evaluated by complex algorithms produced by Sato’s team that convert free-form configurations into structural analysis models.

Typical Module. Image © Maggie Janik
Sketches of Module Iterations

The project was fabricated in Autodesk’s fabrication facility in Boston – BUILD Space, who hosted the GSD team and two research associates for two weeks in January. The assembly of the pavilion including a couple of collapses, reinforced for the students that they were working with a system on the edge of structural viability, and highlighted the discrepancies between the actual artifact and the idealized computer model.

© Maggie Janik

The Komorebi Pavilion was on display in the BUILD Space for a month and then reassembled for the GSD’s commencement show in May 2017 at Gund Hall. It was well received and several students had visitors inquiring as to what was holding it up, proving the success of the experimentation, the concept and the end product.

Project title: Komorebi Pavilion
Architects: Harvard Graduate School of Design, Tokyo University
Year: 2017
Built Area: 66.5 sqft
Project Location: Gund Hall, Cambridge, MA
Instructors: Mark Mulligan, Associate Professor in Practice (Harvard GSD) / Jun Sato, Associate Professor (University of Tokyo)
GSD student team: Ignacio Cardona, DDes ’19: teaching fellow and team supervisor Paul Mok, M.Arch ’18 Carly Gertler, M.Arch ’17 Chao Gu, MDE ’18 Cari Alcombright, M.Arch ’18 Scott Smith, M.Arch ‘17 LeeAnn Suen, M.Arch ‘17 Yousef Hussein Awaad, M.Arch ‘18 Danielle Kasner, M.Arch ’18 Gary Lin, M.Arch ’18 Meric Ozgen, M.Arch ’18 Anne Schneider, M.Arch ’18 Valeria Fantozzi, M.Arch ‘18 Irene Preciado, M.Arch ‘18 James Zhang, M.Arch ‘18
University of Tokyo research team: Ying Xu Iris Zhang
Autodesk BUILD Space team: Athena Moore Adam Allard, Taylor Tobin, Joshua Aigen
Photography: Maggie Janik

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Cite: Tessa Forde. "Students use Complex Computer Analysis to Generate Seemingly Impossible Plastic Pavilion" 21 Dec 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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