Portland, Oregon-based designer and educator Volkan Alkanoglu and the Tennessee-headquartered direct digital fabrication startup Branch Technology have revealed the fruits of a recent collaboration: A massive, 3D-printed purple pavilion now installed at the plaza of the flagship branch of Durham County, North Carolina’s public library system. Defying easy description, the futuristic pavilion, Purple STEAM, is the handiwork of a fleet of six-axis robots that 3D-printed the Alkanoglu-designed structure using carbon and ABS filament over the course of several weeks at Branch Technology’s manufacturing facility in Chattanooga. (Early this month, the company, which focuses on construction-scale 3D printing technology, also announced it had closed an $11 million funding round.)
Standing as one of the largest permanent 3D-printed public sculptures in the United States, the pavilion gets its name (and distinctive hue) from library users who were asked to share some of their all-time favorite authors and books during an extensive outreach and engagement period. Apparently, purple was a reoccurring literary theme with two highly preferred reads being Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. The name also, of course, references and celebrates STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)-based learning.
“In the majority of my previous work, I have achieved very complex designs using traditional materials such as metal or timber, but with advancements of 3D printing at the scale of a building, it opens up a whole new set of possibilities for our built environment,” said Alkanoglu, who was commissioned for the project by Durham County following a 200-application-strong RFQ process, in a statement. Turkey-born Alkanoglu, a founding principal of VA | DESIGN, has completed works across the country including at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, the Yeshiva Museum in New York, and at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
“I received an overwhelming amount of feedback with over 1,000 responses from various members of the local community,” added Alkanoglu. “The Durham community is truly diverse in many ways and has a strong desire to question the status quo. I returned to my studio and started to create a project that would push the boundaries of both technology and design innovation.”
As detailed in a project description, the robotically printed structure, which stands 27-feet-long, 14-feet-wide, and 17-feet-tall, “creates a spatial ambiguity and visual effects, which are created by the merging, blending, and overlaying of its thousands of individual elements. The pavilion appears to transform throughout the day as the light changes from day and night. This environment offers a sense of place where visitors can read stories, connect, or start a conversation.”
The statement goes on to note that Branch’s patented Cellular Fabrication (C-FAB®) technology employed for the geometrically complex Purple STEAM “exemplifies current digitalization investments and developments of new tech industries in the American South.” At the same time, the finished work closely follows design objectives born from the aforementioned community engagement process like encouraging the library-championed attributes of playfulness, interactivity, and creativity. The design was also required to complement the Vines Architecture-designed library building (an AIA and NOMA award winner) while standing on its own as an iconic local landmark.
“During the installation process, people would stop by and ask if we are building a spaceship? They have never seen anything like this before.” said Alkanoglu, “This is exactly the kind of curiosity and discourse we hope to achieve.”