Vlad Tenu′s Minimal Complexity: Tex-Fab

Vlad Tenu′s Minimal Complexity: Tex-Fab

The Tex-Fab Repeat Competition winner: Minimal Complexity
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The Tex-Fab Repeat Competition winner: Minimal Complexity (Vlad Tenu)

The winner of the second annual Tex-Fab competition explores ideas of modular assembly and material efficiency.

Earlier this year, design practitioners from across the world converged on Houston to attend Tex-Fab 2.0, a two-day conference featuring experts, lectures, and workshops. Tex-Fab is a non-profit initiative founded by Brad Bell (Brad Bell Studio), Kevin Patrick McClellan (Architecturebureau), and Andrew Vrana (METALAB) to create a network of Texas designers focused on exploring issues of parametric design and digital fabrication. The organization hopes to serve as a bridge between academia, professional design offices, and industrial fabricators throughout the country.

The finished piece installed in the atrium of University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture building (Vlad Tenu)
  • Fabricator Tex-Fab
  • Designer Vlad Tenu
  • Location Houston, Texas
  • Completion Date February 2011
  • Material 14-gauge aluminum
  • Process laser-cutting, automatic tumbling, manual assembly

Part of the group’s second annual event was the Tex-Fab Repeat Digital Fabrication Competition, which drew teams of one to four designers from 19 U.S. states, 18 countries, and five continents. The jury, including Patrik Schumacher, Marc Fornes, Chris Lash, Lisa Iwamoto, and Blair Satterfield, reviewed 73 entries and chose Minimal Complexity by London-based Romanian architect Vlad Tenu as its winner. In addition to a small cash award, Tenu received the fabricated piece as his prize.

Minimal Complexity was developed out of Tenu’s desire to create a minimal surface structure using modular construction. The infinitely expandable structure simulates a virtual soap film optimized for fabrication with only 16 different components. Tex-Fab began by constructing a half-scale model of the design in the University of Texas at Arlington’s Digital Fabrication Lab. Tenu collaborated with Tex-Fab’s co-directors during the three-week process, working out the ideal fabrication and assembly methods for his design. The model’s 2,368 parts were cut and assembled by UTA students into 144 sets of 16.


The Tomball, Texas-based CROW Corporation machined the finished components, cutting them from 14-gauge aluminum sheets with an Amada 4000 Watt laser. The pieces were then passed through an automatic tumbler to de-burr the edges, making for a safer assembly and resulting in a finer material finish. Working with production manager Thomas Behrman and students in the University of Houston Digital Fabrication Seminar, the Tex-Fab team assembled the parts into a 12-foot-high, 115-square-foot structure within the atrium of the university’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture building designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee in 1985. Plans for Tex-Fab’s third conference and competition in February 2012 are already in the works.

Earlier models of the concept (Vlad Tenu)
Students in the Digital Fabrication Lab at the University of Texas Arlington construct a half-scale model of Minimal Complexity (Tex-Fab)
More than 2,300 parts were laser-cut, tumbled, and arranged into sets before assembly (Tex-Fab)
Final assembly begins (Tex-Fab)
The finished piece was assembled in 120 man-hours (Tex-Fab)