Topocast and Randy Twaddle used Rhino to produce a 3D version of a 2D pattern. The 3D model became a 3D print, which was used as a prototype for casting 65 sculptural tiles.
The entrance portal of Mirabeau B, a 14-unit residential complex in Houston’s Hyde Park neighborhood, is home to a 7-foot-high, 25-foot-long white wall of deeply textural tiles. Each tile is 20 inches square and features on its surface a three dimensional pattern that resembles nothing so much as the carapace of a Sci-Fi race of crab creatures. In fact, the pattern was derived from a photograph of a power transformer and its tangle of intersecting wires atop an electric light pole. It was worked into its current condition through a collaboration between print and textile artist Randy Twaddle and Dallas-based design and fabrication studio Topocast.
Twaddle had used this image to generate several of his designs for wall coverings and rugs and the like. In this instance, he manipulated the image until arriving at a pattern that could be repeated and assembled modularly in a system of tiles. Twaddle delivered the 2D pattern to Topocast, which began to develop a workable 3D version. “Most of the 3D was done in Rhino,” said Topocast founder Brad Bell. “We also used the Rhino plugin T-Splines to create the intricate curvature and geometries.”
The tight, curving geometries were developed with Rhino plugin T-Splines. (Courtesy Topocast)
Topocast created a series of surfaces from the 2D image that could be extruded or manipulated to create the expressive curvature of the 3D tile. The fabricator then went through a process of prototyping with CNC milling machines and 3D printers. It also experimented with a variety of materials, including concretes, resins, and woods. In the end, the team decided on hydro-stone, one of the strongest of all gypsum cements. Topocast created the final prototype from a nine-part 3D print made directly from the Rhino files then assembled to appear as a single, seamless tile. This prototype became the cast for a series of silicone molds. “The reason we went with silicone rather than a urethane mold is that, while silicone is less durable than urethane, it does provide a greater range of material options,” said Bell. “Certain resins have a chemical reaction with urethane.”
Topocast cast 65 of the tiles at its shop in Dallas. Each tile weighs 40 pounds and has a surface depth that varies from 2 ¾ inches to 5 ¾ inches. The fabricator prepared an A cast and a B cast, each with identical surfaces, but differently spaced bolts imbedded in the back. This variation allowed for exactly calibrated spacing on an off-the-shelf Unistrut mounting rack. The team attached 60 of the tiles to the Unistrut mounts in 15 separate columns, each four tiles high. The columns were then shipped to Houston and bolted onto the wall of Mirabeau B’s entrance portal.
Twaddle and Topocast are currently working on refining the tile to make it viable as a commercial product. “We’re working on how to lighten the tile, how to make it smaller, and we’ve done some demonstrations with LED lighting that projects different colors across the surface,” said Bell.