Introduction: The AiR05 - Designed and Built During Q4:13

As an advisor to early-stage companies (and former equity research analyst and investment banker), I tend to support people who design and build things rather than making things myself.  My background as a builder comes from spending time building cabins and wiring electrical systems in the Alaskan bush.  So after several years of learning about innovative maker tools like 3D printing and CNC machines while working with the 501c3 non-profit ReAllocate, I jumped at the chance to spend 90 days using some of these tools to create my own art pieces at Instructables.  Thanks to the backdrop of Pier 9, I was able to take on a physical project whose scope was initially unknowable, and I found it particularly freeing and rewarding.  What follows is an account of how this delightful experience came to pass, and what I created during my time at Instructables.

How I came to Pier 9
After investing six weeks working on another project that took me out into the desert for 17 days, I finally had the time to stop by the innovation workshop on Pier 9 that I had been hearing so much about.  I was blown away.  And not just by the scope of the space, but also by its cleanliness (Walking into a maker space of such epic proportions and seeing hardly a speck of sawdust or metal trimmings while a crew of competent folks are actively making things is surreal.)  At the end of the tour, but not an oversight by any means, was my introduction with the test kitchen, which is a chef’s dream and is also considered part of the workshop and artist space.  I fell in love and asked about using the kitchen for a creative project - I was invited me to apply as an artist-in-residence to craft instructables.

I quickly put together my first instructable and submitted my application highlighting two concepts.  The sillier of the two was liquid nitrogen-frozen tuna tartar balls rolled in panko bread crumbs, deep fried, and then served on a CNC-milled “tree of thorns.”  The other was a living herb wall, providing an array of fresh herbs that could be wheeled in and out of the kitchen for culinary experimentation. Noah encouraged me to build a living wall, and on October 1, 2013 I got started.

The AiR05
As conceived, it is a 6’ tall, 6’ wide wall steel wall on wheels (wall is welded perpendicularly in the middle of a horizontal 30” x 6’ base with wheels).  Drip irrigated pots of herbs can be plucked for cooking. Once I discovered foam aluminum, I added an upside down tomato plant hanging within the plane of the wall (the foam aluminum is 1.7” thick).  The wall is on wheels, so it can be moved into the kitchen during use, then moved elsewhere for sunlight and aesthetic enjoyment.  Along the top of the wall are LED lit 3D printed uprights of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.

The full scope of this project exceeded my time on site.  The reality became a ⅓ scale version substituting air plants (mostly bromeliads) for edible herbs and focusing in on the Golden Gate Bridge - thus the Living Light Wall was born.  The opportunity to 3D print unique pots to hold the small plants screamed sacred geometry to me.  Accenting using LED lighting is a big component of the piece’s impact to me, so creating a fun bridge visual rounded out the final component.  My 3D printing exploration created some pointy pots that I used to accent the wall while exploring the boundaries between organic and inorganic shapes; these also look pretty cool when lit using LEDs...

Field Diary summaries below are from my time designing and building the AiR05:

Proficiency Testing
The first days on site are a bit of adjustment - I’m on a pier in mostly sunny San Francisco with a really nice espresso machine (self-service of course, as we are all makers here), a ~2,500# swinging steel conference table, CNC tools including 3-, 5- and 11-axis routers, a 5 axis waterjet with a 10’ bed, wood and metal workshops, lasers (cutters), and many varieties of 3D printers. Proficiency rating on all of these delectable tidbits is a thorough and structured process that includes 3D printing a small maltese-like falcon and water jetting the Autodesk “A” in 1/16th” sheet steel and 1 7/8" aluminum foam (bring your own foam).

Prototyping the Frame
Once the building flashed green lights when I keyed my ID card and tried to use a tools, I began prototyping.  Starting by laser cutting a cardboard frame of the wall, then taping it together to get a sense of proportions.  Next was a plywood frame with wheels, all good here.  Lastly I committed by cutting 1.5” square tube steel and welding the frame together (with a little expert guidance from Sean, the sheet metal alchemist).

Cutting the Flower of Life
I managed to craft a mostly stable cut path for the FoL design so the 64 pieces would sit long enough to be rescued or politely tumble under the foamy water to the bottom of the bed.  Prepping the OMAX water jet is always fun with the 4’ x 10’ cutting bed.  The supports are pirhana like and the water appears highly suspect.  My cut took about an hour, created 64 pieces (slight peril) and used 40 pounds of aggregate.  Pretty darn cool - well, until a piece deflects the stream of 50k psi water briefly.  I may be the first person to splash the overpass 10’ above the water jet and I will not be the last, as the glass walls of the catwalk tell me someone saw this coming ;)

Printing Pots
I reached out to a friend of mine, Aaron Porterfield, to help me craft some STL files to feed the printer.  Sacred geometry steered me towards star tetrahedrons and 6-point geometric shapes. Transmorphing the files by stretching, expanding and rotating the shapes created containers that made many suitable homes for little airplants.

Pretty Lights
Pulling a few late nights brought the lighting in line with mvp. The wall was getting internal color, traffic was crossing the bridge in the fog and the uprights faded GGB International Orange in and out. Using arduino and LumiGeek shields from Parts, I powered / controlled three types of RGB LEDs - 1 Watt / heat sink, addressable and non-addressable strips. These accented the 3D printed pots, steel frame /design and uplit the bridge with headlight/taillight comets emulating cars in the fog.

the Deliverable
Unveiling my art pieces with another AiR was FUN - people are making great things ON the bay!
my presentation deck - the AiR05 presented 12-10-13
the video - AiR05 presentation (password "blinkylights")
my Instructables collection - My Artist-in-Residency on Pier 9

Thank you to the wonderful folks at Instructables, Pier 9, and Autodesk!