glenn wilcox – _GFRCfURNITUREprototyping

More akin to composite (fiberglass) construction than typical concrete, Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete or GFRC has been revolutionizing the production of concrete architectural components over the last few decades. The high density of glass fibers in the GFRC mix create increased flexure strength in the concrete composition, allowing for thinner and thus lighter constructions, particularly when combined with carbon fiber reinforcement grids. This thinning and lightening of concrete makes it feasible to use in applications where weight may have previously made it prohibitive, such as in furniture design.

The history of architecture and design is marked by moments when designers investigated the use of new materials and/or technologies through the development of furniture prototypes. From Thonet’s refinement of steam bent wood and jigs in the 19th century, to Marcel Breuer and Mart Stam’s steel tube bent chairs of the early 20th, Charles and Ray Eames use of plywood and fiberglass composites in the 50s, Verner Panton’s ground breaking injection molded chairs of the 60s to Marcel Wanders use of carbon fiber and aramid tows in his contemporary chair designs. We will both learn from and understand our work in continuity with this history.

What are we working on when we are making something out of GFRC? A large percentage of our time will be spent developing molds for our designs that the GFRC is sprayed and/or cast into. Mold development requires an understanding and full engagement of digital workflows from modeling in Rhino, form testing through 3D printing to CNC mold milling, and mold prep for casting. In this studio you will learn how to setup 2D and 3D milling processes in Mastercam and run them on the 3 axis Onstrud Router. In addition, we will cover 3D rod bending with SuperMatterTools and the Kuka Robot – developing hybrid structural frameworks as both support and reinforcement for GFRC surface forms. A workshop in MIG welding will round out the skill development in the studio.

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Student Work

Nicolas J. Garcia and Ben Lawson – “The Quarantine Collection”

The GFRC Furniture Studio, taught by Glenn Wilcox, focused on material explorations of high-performance glass fiber reinforced concrete and robotically bent steel rod to create custom furniture pieces. This project focused on the creation of a language of interlocking connections formed by the steel rod, and the creation of thin, smooth GFRC shells with carbon fiber reinforcement. We began with the design of a stool and expanded to develop a larger collection of furniture around a library of connection typologies. Without access to the fabrication facilities due to COVID-19, we focused our efforts on honing the designs based on their structural performance and constructability through the use of structural analysis and robotic simulation software.

The result of this design process was compiled into an 80 page set of fabrication drawings. These drawings consist of assembly diagrams, structural analysis, dimensioned orthographic drawings, and 3D PDFs along with the accompanying fabrication files (CNC GCode, Kuka KRL files, etc). The drawings and files are ready for fabrication upon the reopening of the Taubman Fabrication facilities.

Yuxin Lin and Charlie Sun – “Chair”

Yuxin Lin and Charlie Sun – “Chair”

This project seeks to reverse humans and machines’ role in the design process by using the image-based algorithm to create chairs. By positioning machine and human in reverse of their usual roles, the work challenges creativity as an exclusively-human trait, calling into question the modernist divide between man and machine — not as an insult, but as an opportunity.

What and why we design is often driven by the progress in advanced technologies. With the machine’s (The image-based algorithm) help, we will have more unexpected opportunities and finally reassemble them into innovative designs and products. We are interested in exploring the limitations of technology and how automation might be used as a collaborative artistic tool.

The goal was not to generate a functional chair but to generate a ‘visual prompt.’ We want to see what a chair looks like if created out of a purely aesthetic perspective. The image-based algorithm uses a visual system only considering aesthetics to focus on the subconscious, the associative, the imaginary rather than the rational.

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