At the 2019 Tallinn Architecture Biennale, the design researcher and architectural designer Soomeen Hahm of SoomeenHahm Design Ltd, Igor Pantic, and Fologram presented a wood structure that evidently was not fabricated by ordinary means. Steampunk Pavilion was a demonstration of how the craft of steam-bending hardwood could be merged with augmented reality (AR) technology to expedite the building process, the efforts of which yielded a 15-foot-tall sculpture curved to spellbinding complexity.
Hahm, a recently-appointed design faculty member of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), built upon the lessons learned from Steampunk Pavilion to create 2021: A Steam Odyssey, her first installation at the SCI-Arc gallery. Hahm and Pantic designed a sinuous structure to sit at the gallery’s center, imagined as an extension to sculpture’s otherwise rectilinear home. Visitors that walk straight through the piece will get a sense of the bold new shapes in architecture that may be soon to come.
With the assistance of two SCI-Arc students, the structure was fabricated in three parts in the school’s parking lot in pieces small enough to fit through the doors of the school to be assembled within the gallery. “The fabrication process took a little under two months,” said Hahm. “But it could have taken years without the use of augmented reality, or may not have even been possible.” The team wore head-mounted devices that holographically overlaid a digital model of the complete structure onto the structure-in-progress to create a ‘mixed-reality environment’ in which to assemble the three major pieces. The team then applied steam to the wood to bend it into precise curves and locked each strip into place with several clamps to their profiles as the pieces hardened.
Within the gallery, the three components are held together by metal brackets that were custom-shaped in the earliest phase of fabrication. “Wood is a good material to demonstrate the use of AR in building construction because it has limitations,” Hahm explained. “If those limitations can be overcome in a geometry this complex, then they will be even easier to work through on a simpler project.” Though the exhibition illustrates a promising method of advancing the field of timber construction, Hahm sees future projects being completed in a wider range of materials while still employing AR in their fabrication, as her greater interest is in shaping the future of interactions between humans, robots, machines, and computers.
2021: A Steam Odyssey will be on view until August 29 and is currently only open for in-person visits by reservation to the SCI-Arc community of students, faculty, staff, and trustees.