BeadBrick: A Modular Building System by Rizal Muslimin. Ancient building technology in the modern world. (Click on images to enlarge and play slideshow.)
A few recent projects remind us how powerful and cost-effective modular design can be in creating aesthetic effect by means of pattern-making, both in terms of hard costs (physical production) and soft costs (design effort).
Let’s start with a just concluded design competition exploring the innovative use of brick, one of mankind’s oldest modular systems. The very idea of looking for fresh thinking in a building technology now some 7,500 years old is in itself an intriguing concept; not surprisingly, the various solutions offered by the entrants feel both emphatically contemporary and deeply grounded in traditional sensibilities.
That duality is most evident in the programmatic requirement that design solutions be environmentally sustainable. Only in a culture that has lost some of its connection to nature would such a requirement need to be imposed from without. It’s particularly ironic in the context of a re-examination of brick construction which, by its very “nature”, was a “green” building method long before green meant anything but the color of leaves. But we suppose it’s better that we have to re-discover what our ancestors knew thousands of years ago than to disregard it altogether, as had been the case until relatively recently.
Two winning entrants to the 2011 Brickstainable competition embody the new synthesis of past and present. MIT student Rizal Muslimin’s proposal calls for a roughly triangular brick system that can form 2- and 3-dimensional assemblies by variously joining the bricks along vertical and horizontal axes. Bricks are fabricated using both digital and analog fabrication methods, another reflection of the dual character of the project brief. A second team comprising Kelly Winn, Jason Vollen and Ted Ngai of CASE New York was awarded a prize for their Climate Camouflage system. Drawing on recent developments in biomimicry, their submission explores the potential value of applying the age-old art of ceramics to addressing issues of thermal dynamics, self-shading, moisture reduction and other techniques needed to reduce our carbon footprint.
Winning entry to Brickstinable by Jason Vollen and Kelly Winn of CASE (New York). Once again one of nature’s signature modular geometries – the hexagon – is successfully applied to architectural design. Architects are drawn to this pristine geometry like bees to honey!
Beyond their shared ecological investigation, the Muslimin proposal is notable in expanding the traditionally humble, human scale of modular brick to the urban dimension. Unlike the banal repetitive grids of International Style architecture, or the scale-less wrappings applied to many contemporary skyscrapers, however, his imaginative eco-brick generates architecture that appeals to human sensibilities visually as well as empathically, in large part by the repetition of scalar, modular elements.
The newly launched DIY software Repper is as emphatically 2-dimensional as the Brickstainable proposals are 3-dimensional. If the name of their product doesn’t make it obvious, their tagline certainly does: “Everybody Loves Patterns”. They apparently like them so much they’ve developed the software for you (and us) to generate patterns of your (and our) own making that can then be applied to websites, products, interior design components and graphic design. Particularly appealing is that they don’t just leave you hanging with some pretty pictures on your screen, but have set it up so you can take your designs into production by linking up with various manufacturers and production facilities able to turn your visual patterns into a 3-dimensional reality.
We have no idea what this video is about, but it’s on the Repper site so we thought we’d share it with you anyway.
One of the marvelous things about modular pattern-making is that if the originating designer has done the job well, it’s rather difficult for the likes of us (and you) to generate patterns that are, well, downright ugly or mis-conceived. That’s because an aesthetic safety net is, in effect, built into the design unit, whose positive aesthetic qualities are retained when multiplied into a larger assembly. Coupled with the democratizing capabilities of mass customization, the promise of modularity as a tool for broadening the reach of good design continues to be fulfilled.