The Architectural Technology Department at NYCCT provides an elective course on architectural computation and fabrication — ARCH3590: Introduction to Computation and Fabrication. This course builds skills in mathematical and computational concepts to build a deeper understanding and control of architectural design software. These skills are introduced in modules that directly apply to a particular mode of fabrication. For example, the module in question consists of paneling freeform surfaces into planar elements that can be laser cut from flat stock paperboard and assembled into 3-dimensional form. The skills learned in this module are directly applicable to the principles of sheet metal design, with some added parameters (bend radius, compensation for added material thickness, welding at connections or connection hardware, etc.). Some of these additional parameters are demonstrated using laser cut acrylic and thermoplastic sheet benders, but with limitations. Therefore, it would be a natural extension of this module to move into a 1:1 scale sheet metal investigation of paneling freeform surfaces for architectural façade engineering.
This extension would require equipment more powerful that the laser cutters and thermoplastic sheet bender in the Architectural Technology Department. However, this equipment exists within the college:
- The Mechanical Engineering Technology and Industrial Design Department at NYCCT houses a large water jet cutter, which is capable of piercing sheet metals and stone slabs using a concentrated, high velocity jet of water which contains an abrasive admixture.
- The Civil Engineering and Construction Management Technology Department at NYCCT houses a plasma cutter, which is capable of piercing sheet metals using a concentrated, high velocity jet of inert gas combined with an electrical arc between the nozzle and the surface being cut, forming a plasma hot enough to pierce the metal and fast enough to move the molten waste through the kerf of the cut. This department also houses metal brakes for bending metal – these folds add stiffness to the panels and can be used as mating surfaces for panel joinery.
- The Entertainment Technology Department at NYCCT houses welding equipment which could potentially be used to investigate the joinery aspect of the module, though hardware connections could be used as well.
The proposed “Paneling Freeform Surfaces with Sheet Metal” module will bring together the computational and software resources of the Architectural Technology Department with the metal fabrication resources of the three departments listed above: Mechanical Engineering Technology and Industrial Design, Civil Engineering and Construction Management Technology, and Entertainment Technology. This module will allow students to do material-based research into the planar panelization of freeform surfaces for architectural façade engineering applications, making them aware of the fabrication limitations and possibilities of paneling methods as they move from paperboard prototypes into more industry-relevant sheet metal scenarios.