In collaboration with Wes McGee
Research Through Making 2017
Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning
Thermoplastic Concrete Casting explores molding techniques for glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) utilizing non-woven thermoplastic textiles. Generating complex geometries in concrete typically incurs a high cost in time, material, and labor to produce the molds. Given that concrete is one of the most ubiquitously used building materials in the world, this research seeks to develop novel ways of creating formwork that would eliminate heavy, rigid molds and scaffoldings for support. Rather than employing subtractive processes such as milling of EPS foam for molding techniques, the project attempts to create complex surfaces for large-scale GFRC casting with as little material as possible. Incorporating sartorial techniques of tailoring and patterning, the thermoplastic textile is cut, felted together (a process of needle punching where textile fibers are entangled together), heat stiffened, and surface finished, ready for GFRC casting.
We explored this technique at two scales: first, at object scale with the reproduction of Eames’s molded fiberglass armchair and Saarinen’s Womb Chair, and second, at architectural scale with the installation of an 11’ X 7’ wall composed of five modules with an adjoining table surface. Both scales were designed as prototypes to test the viability of this technique to efficiently and accurately produce complex curvatures. The full-scale wall was an opportunity to explore structural conditions related to joining discrete panels with minimally supported surfaces, as well as to understand spatial and experiential effects.
A key component of this research was to incorporate the use of physics-based design tools, such as the Kangaroo plugin for Rhino/Grasshopper. Utilizing a physics-based modeling approach enables designers to simulate material behaviors in real time, while simultaneously enforcing geometric constraints. In this case the technique was applied to enable modifications to the global form while enforcing the developability of the resulting textile patterns. These were then unrolled and modified parametrically to account for the shrink rate during the stiffening process, as well as allowances for the felted seams.
This project was made possible through the generous support from the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, University of Michigan. Additional support was received through the University of Michigan Office of Research.
Design Team: Tsz Yan Ng and Wes McGee
Fabrication/Installation assistance: Kristen Gandy, Drew Bradford, Layth Adulameer M Mahadi, Scott Chriss, Asa Peller, Jaemoon Rhee, Andrew Thompson, and Simon Anton.