Digital Design & Fabrication 2014

Course Description


Design & Fabrication investigates the transformation of concept design to production documentation and manufacturing of architecture within contemporary digital media. Situated at the threshold between virtual and physical, design information and architectural artefacts, it is comprised of both design computation methods as well as material fabrication technologies.

The course introduces advanced concepts of design computation such as parametric modelling techniques of design description & analysis for fabrication, computer aided design and manufacturing workflows and technologies of materialization such as conventional fabrication protocols as well as rapid prototyping and numerical control manufacturing.

Learning Objectives

  • Apply concepts of imperative (scripting) and declarative (parametric) modelling (CAD/CAM) to create, represent and document architectural design information for production.
  • Apply methods of part and assembly composition (and decomposition) workflows to understand material and manufacturing complexity and select appropriate methods of production.
  • Apply conventional and computer controlled manufacturing methods (cutting, machining and printing) to create physical prototypes to communicate design intent.
  • Apply computer aided design and manufacturing methods to design, produce and present a small scale installation

Measurable Outcomes

  • Evaluate methods of prototyping and fabrication using various technologies (eg. laser and water-jet cutting, machining, 3d printing) in terms of quantitative metrics such as material use/waste, documentation and production time requirements, and qualitative factors such as finishing, affective and visual performance.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the variety of design description, documentation and production methods and technologies in terms of their capabilities and limitations.
  • Respond to the implications of the transformation of design information through various representations (3D/2D, sketches, design/shop drawings and machine files) within the context of provisioning for design-built precision and tolerance.
  • Demonstrate the potential for a creative convergence (or divergence) between original design intent and final outcome through the various phases of representation transformations from design to production mediated thought design computation.

Phase 1: Analog and Digital

The first phase of the term focuses on human and machine capabilities and affordances. It re:introduces fundamental notions of architectural computation within the context of materials and fabrication processes. The exercises (1 & 2) aim at exploring the boundaries of common material and formation processes guided by design computation.

Phase 2: Aesthetic and Technical

The second phase of the term focuses on the challenge of balancing between aesthetic and technical design performance. It introduces digital fabrication technologies such as numerical control milling and waterjet cutting. The exercises (2 & 3) aim at developing a tectonic or rather architectural detailing appreciation and aptitude.

Phase 3: Form-Finding

The third (and fourth) phase of the term focuses on the architecture process from a-to-z in terms of developing and retaining control of the design intent. It introduces methods of form-finding and part/assembly design for a large scale installation project. The exercises (5 & 6) aim at developing comfort with digital processes that are not fully under ones direct control yet steering design towards desirable outcomes.

Phase 4: Design to Production

The fourth phase of the term is an extension of the previous framing the main term project. It focuses on process management, feasibility analysis and production automation assisting the design, development and delivery of the installation project. The exercises (5 & 6) aim at developing and managing an extensive integrated parametric design process from concept design to end production.



Exercise 01: One Million Cuts

Design and produce a study using the laser cutter of an artefact that cannot be drawn or made manually using conventional techniques.

A refresher and bridging exercise on parametric modelling and lessons from the previous semester. Students are given opportunity to catch up with areas of low confidence.

A creativity exercise emphasizing design as a process from means to ends rather than ends to means. Students are to experiment with a generative technique, identify opportunity and derive design context and meaning from own desire and hands on learning.

A material experimentation with walnut wood veneer to understand the interplay between natural and artificial grain, performance and geometry.

A lesson on the power of design computation. Students are called to create something that is undrawable and unmakeable by human hand (within reasonable time) using computing technology that operates at orders of magnitude higher that human aptitude in terms of precision and speed. An exploration of machine aesthetic.

Student Work



Exercise 02: Generative Casting

Create a configurationally complex assembly of uniform elements and cast a massing model in cement.

An exercise that expands on advanced techniques in parametric modelling such as data collections, Euclidean transformations and shape extraction, moving from abstract planar patterns to spatial configuration using ideas from shape grammars.

A professional practice component to understand compositional planning considerations such as scale and proportions for a massing study and derive quantitative metrics such as program ratios in terms of GFA/GIA/NIA for a simplified feasibility analysis workflow.

A material experimentation with wet/manual casting processes using cement admixes. Students are to understand multiphase manufacturing processes positive and negative shapes and spaces and contrast the accuracy, labour, end products between conventional and computerized manufacturing.

Student Work


Exercise 03: Planar Joints

Create a two dimensional male-female joint; use the CNC machine to cut in plywood; test its tensile performance.

An exercise on material performance and detail design. Students are to design a planar puzzle type joint between two pieces of the same material to extend length-wise a component (assuming short stock material dimensions).

An experiment with geometric accuracy and tolerance in fitting parts together. The interplay between the tool and the material (speeds and feeds) the positioning apparatus (jig) and offset geometry due to tooling dimensions.

An introduction to numerical control using old fashioned semi-auto CNC mills (followed by demonstration on fully automated 3D NC). Understanding machine code and generating CAM paths from CAD geometry using first principles (tutorial also using commercial CAM applications).

An introduction to performance based design; the idea of balancing engineering considerations as per the physics of joints/materials, evaluated using the tensile testing machine, and acquisition of the intuitive understanding of the notions of stresses and strains; within the context of the desire to aesthetisize architectural elements.

Student Work



Exercise 04: Spatial Joints

Create three dimensional shell structure joint from a planar stock of aluminum using the water jet cutter.

A continuation exercise on material performance and detail design. Students are to design a spatial grid shell structure joint/node. The node belongs to the family of conical planar quadrilateral mesh geometries used in architectural structures/cladding domain.

An experiment with materials that cannot be forced into shape or welded easily (using 5052 MgCr aluminium sheets) and require high accuracy manufacturing such as waterjet cutting but most importantly provision of the implications of design specification via drawings and the effects of tolerance and error during manufacturing.

A lesson on design of complex micro assemblies for detailing using geometric shape as means of restraining motion, concentration and dispersal of loads through structures.

Students are to develop intuition on dimensional considerations when designing at small scales and achieve architectural expression within physical opportunities and limitations.

Student Work



Exercise 05: Minimal Envelopes

Create a minimal surface envelope in the Dover campus using particle-spring dynamics.

An exercise on part/assembly design and design information workflow management (such as process segmentation into design envelope, details, configuration, production automation and assembly).

A computation tutorial on dynamics and simulation using particle-spring systems to derive a minimal envelope / tensile structure as design surface for an installation on Dover campus.

A challenge that requires tight teamwork to integrate all previous learning experiences and produce an artefact that a single person would not be able to achieve within the time frame of the exercise..

An experiment in provision of design product implication through a multiphase process of design to production sequence of events. Students are to select their site, scope the project size, perform feasibility analysis to gage the effort required in labour, material use and cost while simultaneously exploring their design ideas and determining their motivation and goals.

Student Work



Exercise 06: Rapid Prototyping

Convert your minimal surface model into a 3D printable model and use the filament printers to “prototype” the design.

An exercise on rapid prototyping technologies, namely the various forms of 3D printers available at SUTD FabLab and acquiring the workflow knowledge for producing scaled models.

Students are to combine conventional modelling/prototyping techniques to produce an artefact from their previous exercise. They were encouraged to use a multi-part process and bifurcate their parametric process from visualization and production documentation to incorporate 3d prototyping.

Production of watertight mesh geometry, understanding non-manifold topology, the implication of quantization of geometry and proper scaling/sizing of meshing, lap analysis and randomization for mitigating erroneous parts, orientation of form and layer compaction in additive manufacturing in terms of dimensional stability and visual effects of layered grain on final artefact, fragility and durability estimation of 3d printed parts, removal of support material and finishing opportunities.

Student Work



Stylianos Dritsas
Course Instructor
Assistant Professor, ASD
Bige Tuncer
Course Instructor
Associate Professor, ASD
Kenneth Tan
Fabrication Advisor
Vernelle Noel
Computation Advisor


Recommended Readings

Kolarevic, B. (ed) (2003) Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing, Taylor and Francis Group

Schodek, D., Bechthold, M., Griggs, J. K. and Kao, K. (2004) Digital Design and Manufacturing: CAD/CAM Applications in Architecture and Design, Wiley

Kolarevic, B and Klinger, K (eds) (2008) Manufacturing Material Effects, Rethinking Design and Making in Architecture, Routledge

Gramazio, F. and Kohler, M. (2008) Digital Materiality in Architecture, Lars Muller Publishers

Iwamoto, L. (ed) (2009) Digital Fabrications, Princeton Architectural Press

Dunn, N. (ed) (2012) Digital Fabrication in Architecture, Laurence King Publishing

Howes, P. and Laughlin, Z. (2012) Material Matters: New Materials in Design, Black Dog Publishing

Glynn, R. and Sheil, B. (eds) (2012) Fabricate: Making Digital Architecture, Riverside Architectural Press, Riverside Architectural Press

Peters, B. and De Kestelier, X. (eds) (2013) Computation Works: The Building Of Algorithmic Thought, Architectural Design, March/April

Lefteri, C. (2007) Making It: Manufacturing Techniques for Product Design, Laurence King Publishing

Wigginton, M. (1996) Glass in Architecture,Phaidon Press
Reeser, A. and Schafer, A. (eds) (2004) New Technologies / New Architectures,Praxis Journal, Issue 6

Jenkins, D. (ed) (2007) Foster 40 Themes,Prestel
Sakamoto, T. and Ferre, A. (eds) (2008) From Control to Design: Parametric/Algorithmic Architecture, Actar

Littlefield, D. (ed) (2008) Space Craft: Developments in Architectural Computing, RIBA Publishing

Fiell, C. and Fiell, P. (2009) Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design, Fiell Publishing

Peters, B. and Peters, T. (eds) (2013) Inside Smart Geometry: Expanding the Architectural Possibilites of Computational Design, Wiley