Last Monday, Productspec were lucky enough to host a talk by the co-founders of Nervous System on procedural generation in architecture and design. for those of you who may not have heard about it or were unable to attend, we’ll summarise the finer points below.
Nervous System has managed to build a small-scale, sustainable design practice based out of Somerville, Massachusetts and built around nature-inspired generative geometry and 3D printing technology. Working with distributed 3D fabrication companies like Shapeways they are able to fabricate and ship orders as required, mitigating many of the risks associated with launching a new product line and allowing them to take advantage of the possibilities of mass customisation.
Between them, practice founders Jessica Rosencranz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg hold degrees in architecture, mathematics, and biology, and all of these elements have a clear line through their work. In their talk they discussed how each project starts entirely in research, exploring biological systems and ideas, transitions into a series of 3D studies testing the limitations of their fabrication process and eventually transitioning into a web-based procedural product that can be generated and fabricated on demand.
The first project that they discussed was Floraform, a project that built around differential growth, the idea that complex biological forms can be developed simply out of the process of one group of cells growing faster than another. Translated into a digital environment, Nervous System translated this into an algorithm that causes triangles in a mesh to elongate based on how far they are from an edge, with spectacular results.
The second project, Kinematics, explores the creation of 3D printed fabrics using a variation of Llyod’s algorithm to create cellular voronoi patterns and can be viewed and experimented with on a few of their web apps. They delved into the pragmatic requirements of 3D printing complex objects in a way that gets the best value for money; as 3D printers have specific volumes, you have an incentive as a designer to maximally fill that space. As such they have started experimenting with pre-folding the fabric using physics simulations so it can fit into the smallest possible space, to be unfolded by the user after the printing process is complete.
All of these works exhibit emergent complexity created by combining simple bottom up rules and simulation – two things that traditional architectural software packages are bad at (or rather, are not built for), but are still becoming increasingly relevant to the architecture space.
Jessica and Jesse overcome these challenges by being toolmakers as well as designers, creating their art and software platform at the same time. This approach means that customers can tweak and change their designs (within parameters designated by the app) in real time and the results can be immediately previewed and costed online.
If you missed the talk and are interested in learning more, there are still seats available in the workshop they are holding at Fab Lab Wellington this weekend!