LTU’s makeLab produces a different kind of cloud solution
Monday, May 21st, 2012
An array of 66 baffles, some as long as 31 feet, have transformed the ceiling of Lawrence Tech’s Welcome Center into a work of art that is designed to diffuse the sometimes overpowering natural light shining through the glass roof of the A. Alfred Taubman Student Center.
Nicknamed “the cloud,” the series of vertical baffles diffuses the sunlight rather than blocking it.
The room is more comfortable because people are no longer sitting in direct sunlight, and images on a projection screen will be easier to see.
The project is a dramatic demonstration of the capabilities of the makeLab, which was established in 2010 by the College of Architecture and Design to give students and faculty access to digital fabrication. Under the leadership of Assistant Professor Jim Stevens, the makeLab also provides information about digital fabrication through its blog.
Pandush Gaqi and Steve Kroodsma, two 2010 architecture graduates and makeLab fellows, spent seven months on the project that has saved the University thousands of dollars while providing the makeLab with a new CNC machine that was needed for a project of this size.
University Architect Joseph Veryser said a solution was needed because the strong overhead sunlight discouraged people from using the meeting room. He turned the project over the Gaqi and Kroodsma when a professional design firm had trouble coming up with a workable solution and it appeared likely that outside contractors would charge at least $15,000.
The makeLab team was faced with a challenge of devising a solution that would be compatible with the existing lighting fixtures and fire-suppression sprinkler system. The team had to devise a way to block the sunlight with non-flammable materials that wouldn’t collect dust and would be easy to clean.
Gaqi and Kroodsma began by using software programs – Rhinoceros, 3XMax and 3DSMax – to simulate the sun’s effect inside the room throughout daylight hours from Jan. 21 to Dec. 21. The resulting data was the basis for the length, depth and shape of the baffles in different sections of the room.
“Design is driven through functional data analysis,” they wrote in their PowerPoint presentation for the project. “Form follows function.”
Gaqi and Kroodsma and their makeLab collaborators, students Natalie Haddad and Kyle Van Klompenberg, realized that the existing CNC cutting table wasn’t big enough to cut the long baffles efficiently. So they each donated $1,400 for parts and built a much bigger cutting table with a vacuum function capable of holding the low-density fiberboard pieces in place to be cut.
They estimate that the new table reduced the cut time for the 66 baffles up to 22 inches in height to 10 hours from 50 hours or more on the existing table.
“This was about learning and speeding up the process for future projects,” said Gaqi, the project manager who also works in the makeLab as a designer/fabricator.
After debating over several alternatives for mounting the baffles, the team decided on a grid of metal rods with threads on the end so that nuts and washers could hold the louvers in place.
Once the pieces were cut and painted, the next challenge was to transport them to the top floor of the Taubman Center. This was accomplished by rigging up a pulley in the stairwell.
Maneuvering the long thin pieces was a cumbersome and time-consuming process, but it wasn’t complicated. “The simplest ideas are the best,” Gaqi said.
The projected ended up costing $7,000 in time and labor. Gaqi and Kroodsma said they couldn’t have accomplished the project without support from Stevens, Associate Dean Ralph Nelson, and the Coleman Foundation.
Perhaps Veryzer’s confidence in them was the best support of all. “It’s funny what you can accomplish when they give you freedom,” Gaqi said.