Introduction: Laser Cut Conceptual Massing Models

This example provides a schematic design exercise incorporating basic massing, program, and circulation in an integrated workflow that includes schematic plan development with mass / glass conceptual models using basswood and acrylic. This way schematic plans and conceptual massing models can be developed in one integrated workflow.

Step 1: Typology Sketch Models

Programmatically intense buildings, from schools, to labs, to housing, often follow particular typologies which help to form a basic formal vocabulary: bars, finger schemes (aka alphabet schemes), and blocks. These typologies form basic primitives that can be adapted into numerous shapes, as well as combined as hybrids. Often typological thinking gets a bad wrap if you take it too literal, instead of understanding typologies as an abstraction to develop a flexible structure. Consequently, start by making numerous small scale study models to get beyond the literal typological thinking.

Step 2: Program and Plan Development

Taken from the previous typology studies, in this case a broken bar, this example takes a basic school program, and chunks out were approximate size classrooms, labs, and breakout spaces could go. This is not a plan! Its just a place to start.

Step 3: Think Spatial

While the plan is a 2d abstraction of space, design with spatial / sectional relationships in mind. In this example, the exterior wall is moved out to provide space for an atrium.

Step 4: Develop Plan With Spatial Relationships in Mind

Evolve interior spaces so they work with overall shape and geometry. With single line drawings, you can develop numerous variations very quickly allowing spatial opportunities to form. In this example, a flexible collaboration area opens up to the second floor circulation, which then leads to open alcoves in a mezzanine at the atrium. Circulation is included with an open stair in the atrium, with space for an enclosed stair at the bottom (this is a two story building so the open stair can act as a means of egress). At the same time the program can begin to break the plane of the exterior massing to make room for larger program, such as the maker space on the first floor, as well as to begin a massing / formal concept, such as cantilevering the second story flex spaces as a transparent volume that is contiguous with the open circulation.

Step 5: Final Plan

By using a few layers to identify line widths, graphic punch can be added in Adobe Illustrator very quickly. These are great for quick schematic plans using line weights to indicate wall thicknesses.

Step 6: Laser Cut Massing Model

The previous plan can be simplified a little more and quickly developed as a laser cutfile. The acrylic can be used to develop the continuous area of circulation space, including open collaboration and atrium spaces. Without being a larger spatial model, the layering of acrylic and basswood hints at the spatial qualities of the atrium, overlooking circulation mezzanine on the second floor, as well as some formal ideas about cantilevering the glass collaboration areas and maker space on the first floor.

But wait! Know your materials and tolerances:

USE CALIPERS to understand precise material thickness.

In this example, 4 layers of 1/8" acrylic equal 3 layers of 1/8" basswood - the 1/8" is nominal size, not actual size.

Thick piano wire is used to align the layers, and in this example is used in approximate locations where structural columns would go. These registration pins should be tight to eliminate layers sliding, but not so tight that they break the material. This takes a little experimentation with the laser cutter to allow for the "kerf" of the laser - a few hundreds or even thousandths of an inch can make all the difference. If you make the circle for the pins as a block in you digital file, then you can do quick tolerance tests on the laser cutter and change all the circles in one go by redefining the block.

With a few steps in planning, and careful attention to materials and tolerances, schematic plans and conceptual massing models can be developed very quickly in one integrated workflow.

Step 7:


IIVSEVENVII made it!(author)2015-04-03

In my model I chose to create both the contours and "masses" with basswood in order to highlight connections between building and site (such as the tiny bridge in the center). One note: This method limits the size of the model significantly, and also creates a line where the pieces of basswood meet.

Habitual Model.jpgFinal Model Bridge View.jpg
jsskilli made it!(author)2015-03-24

Mass-Glass Model by Jeff Skilling

esoc made it!(author)2015-03-24

If you're using a 1/16" basswood stick to join the pieces, lasercut the rectangle at 7/128" or just do some tests beforehand. Also, I'd recommend sanding the basswood sticks a bit before trying to assemble.

seamster made it!(author)2015-03-08

Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this!

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