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A fellow at the Knowlton School of Architecture expounds on the work of Le Ricolais with a new plugin for Rhino.
For Justin Diles, Ohio State University’s KSA LeFevre fellowship was a fateful progression of past experiences and ongoing professional work. While studying under Cecil Balmond at the University of Pennsylvania, Diles encountered hand-built models that Robert Le Ricolais constructed with his students in the 1960s. “Le Ricolais built models with his students for 20 years,” said Diles, “and one that I found he had built out of tubular steel and loaded to failure. It produced a really beautiful deformation pattern.”
Two years later, Diles was teaching at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in the master class studio of Greg Lynn. While in Austria, he met Clemens Preisinger, a developer who, with support from Klaus Bollinger’s firm Bollinger Grohman Engineers, wrote a new plugin for Rhino called Karamba. The plugin is an architect-friendly, finite, element analysis method that delivers fast, intuitive graphic information, along with the requisite numbers. The plugin would figure heavily in Diles’ fellowship work.
When he arrived in Ohio, Diles’s work progressed along two parallel tracks: The first was developing a computational design component with a formal vocabulary of the structural deformation Le Ricolais’ model. The second was developing a material capable of realizing the design. In Karamba, Diles augmented a tectonic simile from le Ricolais’s latticed models as surfaces for fabrication with composites. “That was an ah-ha moment for me,” said Diles. “I began taking a single assembly and ran it through multiple iterations of buckling deformations.” Diles layered multiple deformations into patterns that produced a puzzle of nesting components. Black and white coloring helped him track the layers and lent a graphic, architectural appeal.
After the design was finalized, Diles made a series of molds from lightweight Styrofoam. “It was interesting because it’s usually a junk material and, in a way, has a very bad reputation as a material,” he said. “But it’s recyclable and can hold a tremendous amount of weight and is easily worked on a CNC mill.” A 3-axis mill generated components of a mold, which were taped together and sealed with Plaster of Paris to prevent resins of the composite from bonding to the foam. “We used a lot of tricks from Bill Kreysler’s fabrication shop,” said Diles. The final mold was sealed with Duratec StyroSheild.
Diles and his team coated the mold with layers of different materials, not knowing exactly how the final components would safely release from the cast. An outermost layer of marine-grade gel coat was applied to the mold and roughly sanded so a chopped E-glass fiberglass reinforcement could be affixed to it with resin. Since fiberglass is a lightweight material, about three layers were built up to realize the final 11 1/2- by 6-foot form. Convex white sections and hollow black pieces were friction-fitted, sans glue, with maximum gap spaces of only 1/32-inch.