Dragon Shell Pavilion Prototype




About: Artist and Residence at Autodesk Pier 9

Dragon Shell Pavilion is a collaboration between Alan Cation, Dennis Huang, and Leah Zaldumbide. It is a full-scale prototype carried out in the digital media seminar, Synthetic Tectonics, instructed by Jason Kelly Johnson at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Dragon Shell investigates the tectonic relationship between computational physics simulation as a form-finding mechanism and the physical construct, which is precision-fabricated using CNC technologies. Utilizing a direct computer-to-fabrication feedback loop allowed us to rapidly prototype and test possibilities for the construction. The final output is a funicular shell structure that is inhabitable for a variety of programmatic functions, with a variable degree of porosity and opacity as one moves throughout the structure.

Step 1: Design and Simulate Physics

Here, we began with a simple polygon as a base that was then subdivided and used as the foundation for the form-finding simulation. Using the physics simulation software, Kangaroo for Grasshopper and Rhinoceros, we were able to generate a funicular shell from the sub-divided polygon. We could then further sub-divide and triangulate the shell as we deemed fit.

Step 2: Prototype!

This step is really characteristic of the entire process, as one must continuously prototype to learn and iterate.

Step 3: Refine and Detail

After repeated prototyping, the time comes for further refinement and detailing. The pieces are all flattened using a script, while details become programmed into the script as well. They are then prepared for the laser cutter and CNC machine.

Step 4: Construct and Imagine

Assemble the final pieces and construct the pavilion.



    • Pets Challenge

      Pets Challenge
    • 1 Hour Challenge

      1 Hour Challenge
    • Beauty Tips Contest

      Beauty Tips Contest

    8 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    The shell looks really nice, but I'm itching for more details - what's it made of? How did you cut and fix the pieces? Do you have files or plans that others could use to make their own? What software did you use? How? What is the structure actually for?


    Also, I love the opening paragraph - it really reads like an art student's project!

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Hello, Kiteman, thank you for your comment and feedback! I am planning on adding some more info throughout the week. To directly answer some of your questions, It is made using 1/8" and 1/4" plywood for all of the structural components, and polypropylene for the translucent sheathing (skin). All pieces are fixed with nuts and bolts, except for the skin which is attached by rivets. At this point I will not upload the exact laser-cut/cnc files, not because I am opposed to doing so, but because as a student project, it is not fully engineered beyond this prototype. However, I would like to upload my design files - using Rhinoceros and a plugin Grasshopper (a visual programming interface for Rhino) for anyone that would like to take a look at that and play with it.

    The purpose of the structure acts as a reading space during the day, and a social gathering space at night

    Elena Slon

    3 years ago

    Great project!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Looks great, I too wish you'd get a little more into detail.


    4 years ago

    This is really cool! Once you add the rest of the instructions I'm going to need t build one of these! Keep up the great work!!

    This is so cool looking! I love how being able to see inside it of it from the outside changes based upon the angle you are looking at it from. How it can go from nearly completely see through, to completely opaque. Thanks for sharing!