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The Self Assembly Lab: The Latest Architecture and News

MIT and Google Team Up to Create Transformable Office Pods

08:00 - 4 October, 2016

The MIT School of Architecture’s Self-Assembly Lab has teamed up with Google to create Transformable Meeting Spaces, a project that utilizes woven structure research in wood and fiberglass pods that descend from the ceiling, transforming a large space into a smaller one. Designed as a small-scale intervention for reconfiguring open office plans—which “have been shown to decrease productivity due to noise and privacy challenges”—the pods require no electromechanical systems to function, but rather employ a flexible skeleton and counterweight to change shape.

This skeleton is composed of 36 fiberglass rods, which are woven together into a sort of textile or cylindrical braid. Thus, the structure behaves “like a Chinese finger trap: The circumference of the pod shrinks when it’s pulled, and expends when relaxed.”

Courtesy of MIT Self-Assembly Lab Courtesy of MIT Self-Assembly Lab Courtesy of Unknown Courtesy of MIT Self-Assembly Lab + 7

Rock Print: The Remarkable Deinstallation of a Standout Exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Biennial

12:00 - 27 March, 2016

It’s a shame that the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial has already come and gone, and that the Windy City will have to wait until next fall for another dose of architectural euphoria. But it’s worth revisiting one of the event’s standout exhibits, an installation equally exemplary for its display as for its expiry. “Rock Print,” created by Gramazio Kohler Research of ETH Zurich and Skylar Tibbits of MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, was a four-legged, neo-primitive tower of stones and string that was erected without mortar or other reinforcement, meaning its disassembly would be the exact inverse action of its construction. The string, laid down by an algorithm, was the binder for stones laid by hand in thin stacks – the team called them “slices” – in what amounted to a type of analog version of 3D printing. The material process has been given the name “reversible concrete” and could be a paradigm shift in construction for its portability and versatility.

In the above video, the deconstruction of “Rock Print” is shown in abridged stages, where the structure’s string is dislodged and returned to a motorized spool on the gallery floor. The small stone fragments spew from the top of the structure like debris from the top of a volcano in the midst of eruption, and all that remains at the end is a small mound of concrete pebbles occupying a large circumference. A structure like “Rock Print” emphasizes that detritus can be avoided by adapting the process of building to vanguard materials that seek to match the brevity of contemporary construction with materials that curtail the waste.

5 Projects at the Chicago Biennial that Demonstrate the State of the Art of Sustainability

09:30 - 13 November, 2015
5 Projects at the Chicago Biennial that Demonstrate the State of the Art of Sustainability

At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the theme selected by directors Joseph Grima and Sarah Herda was deliberately wide in scope, with the expectation that more than one hundred exhibitors would each bring their own perspective on what is “The State of the Art of Architecture.” But where does that leave one of architecture's most widely adopted missions of the 21st century: sustainability? In this article, originally published on her blog Architectstasy as “Chicago Architecture Biennial: The State of the Art of Sustainability,” Jessica A S Letaw delves into five projects that take on sustainability in the context of Chicago's biennial.

At North America's inaugural Architecture Biennial in Chicago, “The State of the Art of Architecture,” architectural firms and practices from all six inhabited continents have been invited to display their work. Spanning all sizes and kinds of projects, the Biennial is showcasing solutions to design problems from spiderwebs to social housing.

US buildings use around 40% of all the country’s energy consumption. It is a disconcerting truth that even if every new building starting construction tomorrow were to be net-zero energy and net-zero water, we’d still be on a crash course, draining more naturally-available resources than our one planet can permanently sustain. In this environment, architectural designers have a special responsibility to educate themselves about innovative sustainable design techniques, from those that have worked for thousands of years to those that, as the Biennial’s title hopefully suggests, are state of the art.

So what does the Biennial have to say about sustainability? Five projects on display demonstrate different approaches at five different scales: materials, buildings, resources, cities, and the globe.

Installation: JB1.0: Jamming Bodies

04:00 - 15 October, 2015
Installation: JB1.0: Jamming Bodies, "JB1.0: Jamming Bodies", 2015. Lucy McRae and Skylar Tibbits with MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab. Storefront for Art and Architecture.
"JB1.0: Jamming Bodies", 2015. Lucy McRae and Skylar Tibbits with MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab. Storefront for Art and Architecture.

"JB1.0: Jamming Bodies" is an immersive installation that transforms Storefront’s gallery space into a laboratory. The installation, a collaboration between science fiction artist Lucy McRae and architect and computational designer Skylar Tibbits with MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, explores the relationship between human bodies and the matter that surrounds them.

Gramazio Kohler and Skylar Tibbits' "Rock Print" Is a Gravity-Defying Pile of Stones

12:00 - 14 October, 2015
Gramazio Kohler and Skylar Tibbits' "Rock Print" Is a Gravity-Defying Pile of Stones, Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich
Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich

As everyone knows, if you stack layer upon layer of small stones atop one another, what you eventually get is a pile of stones. It's among the least dramatic phenomena in the whole of nature; add string though, and the whole process is transformed. That's the idea behind Rock Print, an installation at the Chicago Architecture Biennial created by Gramazio Kohler Research of ETH Zurich and Skylar Tibbits of MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, which uses just these two elements to create a dramatic four-legged column that is self-supporting and can be quite literally unraveled into its constituent parts after use.

Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich Courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich + 17

Fluid Crystallization / Skylar Tibbits + Arthur Olson

01:00 - 28 July, 2013
Fluid Crystallization / Skylar Tibbits + Arthur Olson, Courtesy of The Self-Assembly Lab, MIT
Courtesy of The Self-Assembly Lab, MIT

Text description provided by the architects. MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab has exhibited the Fluid Crystallization project as part of the 2013 Architectural League Prize Exhibition at the Parson’s Gallery in New York. The Fluid Crystallization installation - a collaboration between MIT Self-Assembly Lab director Skylar Tibbits and The Molecular Graphics Lab director Arthur Olson - investigates hierarchical and non-deterministic self-assembly with large numbers of parts in a fluid medium.