Introduction: Mobile Craft Module

About: architect + educator

The Mobile Craft Module, a product of the Prototyping Mobility Advanced Architecture Studio led by Adam Marcus at California College of the Arts, proposes an architecture of deployable structures that can be reconfigured to serve a variety of functions. The twin modules can be arranged in multiple ways to facilitate exhibition space, event space, and work space, and they nest together to become secure at night.

The project served as CCA's anchor pavilion during the Market Street Prototyping Festival, a three-day event in San Francisco that explored new ideas for designing public space. Throughout the festival, the modules hosted a series of exhibitions and events featuring CCA students and faculty. Following the festival, the project returned to CCA to serve as mobile workstations on the Back Lot, the new outdoor making space on the College's San Francisco campus. The intent is for the modules to provide an infrastructure for the construction of future design-build projects undertaken by students and faculty. Each module is open on one side, providing access to the modular shelving and work surfaces on the interior. The reconfigurable plug-in shelving system includes caps, which double as stools once they are removed from the module. The structural frame is fabricated from welded steel tube, with angle iron members welded to the corners to serve as protective edges for the cladding. The cladding is fabricated from western red cedar boards, each of which is cut to size. A robotically-cut pattern carved into the cedar boards consists of abstract shapes that merge together to spell "CCA" as one moves around the module.

Link: Mobile Craft Module

Step 1: Materials

The primary materials used to build the module are stock steel parts, Western Red Cedar boards, 1/2" baltic birch plywood, and miscellaneous hardware. The steel was ordered in bulk, and then custom fabricated at CCA's metal shop by the design team. The cedar was also ordered in bulk, cut down to size at CCA's shop, and then routed with a custom pattern using a robotic CNC router at CCA's Rapid Prototyping Studio. All hardware was specified as stainless steel (for exterior use) and sourced from McMaster-Carr.

Step 2: Design


The design process began with a quick, two-week design charrette within the Prototyping Mobility studio. The students worked in four teams to quickly test ideas and material strategies as a way to establish a design direction for the semester. This exercise was intended to generate a multitude of ideas for consideration and evaluation by the entire class. The end result was not to have a fully developed scheme, but rather a compelling design idea accompanied by programmatic analysis and material testing that together constitute adequate proof of concept. The teams were asked up to focus on a single material approach to the underlying structure of the design.

The consensus emerging from the charrette was to develop a system of modular structures that could both act independently and together. The goal was to have a system that could close up at night (for security purposes during the festival) and also operate as a reconfigurable set of modules that could accommodate a number of different functions. This reconfigurability (both for the Festival use and for future use at CCA) became the driving concept of the project.


Following the charrette, students divided into three teams to develop the primary aspects of the project: Frame, Cladding, and Plug-in System. Given the short design and build timeframe, each team produced a number of iterative 1:1 prototypes to quickly test ideas at full scale.

The primary constraint driving the design of the frame was to size the modules to fit within a rental truck with a limited-size lift gate. The studio went through a number of iterations studying the relationship between the shape of the module and its tiling behavior. The final scheme—angular in both plan and section—gives the module a dynamic spatial presence both when it stands individually and nested together with its twin. An integrated digital model allowed the students to resolve the complex miters at each of the frame's corners.

Cedar boards were selected as the cladding material for their durability and weather resistance. The design team produced a number of iterations and full-scale prototypes to test different strategies for embedding patterns within the cedar cladding. The studio was interested in developing a graphic strategy for the module which would produce multiple readings at multiple scales. The final scheme utilizes routed patterns in the cedar boards to produce a camouflaged text "CCA" that becomes legible from a distance, but remains completely abstract from up close.

The plug-in system was designed to provide maximum flexibility and reconfigurability over time. Standard unistrut members are mounted to the steel frame, providing a universal armature to which any number of de-mountable plugins can be attached. The design/build team fabricated a series of shelves with removable caps that double as stools, which proved very useful during the festival.

Step 3: Fabrication

Fabrication occurred over a 4-week period leading up to the Market Street Prototyping Festival. Students produced shop drawings for each individual steel member, which were used to guide the custom fabrication of each part. The frames were welded together in CCA's welding studio. In addition to the primary members, a number of supplemental steel parts were also welded to the frame: small tabs to provide mounting points for the cladding, gusset plates for mounting the casters, and custom fabricated steel pulls at each corner.

The cedar boards were manually ripped down to size using a table saw. Using a CNC router, the cladding pattern was carved into the boards. The CNC routing was completed in batches, with boards taped together using double-sided tape. After sanding and minor touch-up work, the cedar cladding was stained with water-sealer. The build team then fastened the cladding to pre-cut wood sleepers, which had already been attached to the steel frame. As each piece of cladding is unique (due to the module's angular shape), each board had to be measured on site and cut to size prior to attachment to the frame.

The plugins were fabricated from 1/2" baltic birch plywood. The integrated digital model allowed each component to be flat-cut from 4x8 stock using the CNC router. Handles and fastening holes were located in advance and also cut by the router. The plugins are attached to the unistrut armature with standard stainless steel hardware.

Step 4: Installation

The installation of the modules on Market Street was remarkably easy since they were designed to fit in a rental truck and be easily deployed. Once unloaded from the truck, the modules were rolled into place on the sidewalk and locked together to secure everything inside. For the festival, the modules were outfitted with low-cost LED strip lighting to create a dynamic presence on the street in the evening hours.

Step 5: Interaction

The Mobile Craft Modules hosted a number of events on Market Street throughout the three-day festival, showcasing student work and faculty research from CCA:

Mobile Social Infrastructures: Prototypes for Off-The-Grid Deployable Market
Thursday, April 9, 2015. 2:00pm
sponsored by CCA Build Lab
Students from courses led by Prof. Mauricio Soto and Prof. Antje Steinmuller will present research, designs and prototypes for mobile deployable street food infrastructure for local food market organization Off The Grid.

Tactical Urbanism Bicycle Tour and Flash Symposium
Thursday, April 9, 2015. 4:30pm
sponsored by Studio for Urban Projects, Island Press, and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Participants: Adam Marcus, Ali Sant, Neil Hrushowy, John Bela, Mike Lydon

Virtual Interactive Prototypes: Emerging Uses of Video Game Technology
Thursday, April 9, 2015. 7:00pm
sponsored by CCA Digital Craft Lab
CCA Professors T Jason Anderson and Chris Platz will showcase recent academic and professional research using UNITY, UNREAL, and Vuforia to construct virtual environments and prototypes, specifically recent work with Augmented Reality on iOS devices.

Kinematic Code: Robotic Drawings and Paintings by the Digital Craft Lab
Friday, April 10, 2015. 12:00pm
Architecture students working within a course taught by Andrew Kudless in the CCA Digital Craft Lab will demonstrate various techniques they have developed in programming a small robotic arm to draw and paint. Students have been exploring the the creative capacity of code to produce innovative generative art works.

PechaKucha presentations by Master of Architecture thesis students
Friday, April 10, 2015. 8:00pm
Third-year Master of Architecture students will deliver short presentations of the thesis research and design proposals they have been developing in their final semester of CCA's graduate architecture program.

Grounding Urban Metabolism
Saturday, April 11, 2015. 6:00pm
Book launch and mini-symposium, sponsored by CCA The latest volume of the journal New Geographies addresses the challenges associated with analyzing “urban metabolism,” the flow of materials and energy within cities. The collected essays offer a critical examination of contemporary projects and open up new approaches for design. Join journal contributors for discussion of the new publication. Participants: Neeraj Bhatia, Irene Cheng, David Fletcher, Daniel Ibañez (Harvard GSD), Nikos Katsikis (Harvard GSD), Christopher Roach

Step 6: Speculative Futures

Displaying the modules during the Market Street Prototyping Festival provided a tremendous opportunity to solicit feedback and input from the public regarding the project. Based on this input, the students in the Prototyping Mobility studio developed a series of quick speculations about how the modules could be further developed and adapted to alternate settings. Some of these included campsites, ice fishing huts, mobile gardening sheds, and work space for tech offices.

Step 7: After the Market Street Prototyping Festival

Following the festival, the modules returned to CCA, where they now serve as mobile workstations in the College's Back Lot, a large outdoor making space. They are also intended to be used for temporary CCA exhibitions at off-campus events, such as Maker Faire, where they they anchored CCA's booth in May 2015.

Step 8: Project Credits

Prototyping Mobility Advanced Architecture Studio
Spring 2015 / California College of the Arts / CCA Digital Craft Lab
Instructor: Adam Marcus

Students / Design & Fabrication Team: Barry Atiabet, Keith Edwards, Joshua Evans, Tien Yi Hsieh, Ludmila Ilieva, Reynaldo Kambey, Thomas Monroy, Ryan Montgomery, Mark Nicholson, Chien Lien Pan, Murhaf Salameh, Adithi Satish, Jin Shen Photography: Prototyping Mobility studio, Joseph Chang, Jeffrey Maeshiro

Acknowledgements: Jason Kelly Johnson, Jonathan Massey, Nataly Gattegno, Mark Donohue, David Meckel, Jennifer Stein, Noah Bartlett, Melanie Corn, Thomas Haakenson, Jen Sikora, Sarah Lowe, Zane Murray, Chris Parsell, Neal Schwartz, Matt Hutchinson, Peter Anderson, Mauricio Soto, Clayton Williams

Metal Contest

Participated in the
Metal Contest

Outside Contest

Participated in the
Outside Contest