Part 1 of our third week in the form-finding experiment evaluated how biological cell structures are created, the science behind a foam structure, the types of foams that were uncovered, and what our experience with creating the plaster molds was like.
“Cells are highly complex biological structures… This completely affects the biological functions at many size scales. The amount of information that is needed to direct the action of the cellular assembly pathways could be minimal because cellular morphogenesis is a self-organizing process.”1
Our interest is focused in the self-organizing processes of cells, their formation and the resultant structures produced by genetic info ration in nature. One example of a cellular structure is the honeycomb, a morphological structure made by bees that is based on the bee’s round bottom shape and size, which mainly functions to either store honey or larvae. The hexagonal shapes of the honeycomb are the result of a more complex process than just assembling; one of the reasons why the comb’s structure is shaped as a hexagon is because a bee has to consume about eight times the amount of honey to produce a ounce of wax. The hexagon (compared to the triangle and square) is a more efficient shape that can be assembled in a grid without leaving gaps and with the smallest perimeter. It’s the most efficient use of material.
Because the experiments began with soap studies, we began to examine all that entails with bubbles and foam. Most foams are made up of gas and liquid, the most common being bubble baths, dishwater detergent, and beer foam. A bubble is a gas pocket trapped within a thin liquid film, which is defined by a border. The creation of a bubble happens when trapped gas is suddenly released under a change in pressure. With bubble baths and dish detergent, foams cannot be created without a third variable; in most cases that variable is a liquid.
The soap studies were created with a combination of water, soap, and air. The agitation between all three materials created the foam. The soap bubble studies can be defined as closed foam types. Closed foam occurs when gas creates a series of pockets that become surrounded by a solid material. This is what is seen in the soap study. The studies with soap led the group to consider how other types of foams can be created. Another example of creating foam comes from compressed air foam systems (CAFS). CAFS are used in many utilitarian situations; as a means to apply insulation, to put out a fire, etc. What the group found in researching CAFS was that they generate foam and provide energy which propel the result of the foam. The components for CAFS typically include a pump, liquid, foam concentrate tank, and a compressor. The concentrate, liquid and air need to be well-mixed to ensure a proper result.
The plaster studies can be defined as open cell foams. Open cell foams are created when the gas pockets connect allowing a solid material to pass through. To create the effect of an open cell in the plaster studies, the group used water balloons which created a network of voids and the plaster formed around the solid (water balloons).
There are infinite processes of cell formation and all of them are very complex. The plaster studies are the result of experimenting with different mediums in order to understand how the cells are assembled. The casting process consisted of equal parts molding plaster and water to create an ideal mix for the study. The correct mix ratio was given by a certified plaster artist in San Antonio. The form the team created was an 8” Cube MDF box; once put together the water balloons could be placed within the formwork. We learned early on about the amount of pressure water balloons could take, the first studies had fewer amounts of balloons than the final trials. With the addition of more compacted water balloons the open cell structure created a more organic look. Typically for the plaster studies we allowed the mold to dry for 2 hours and once ready the water balloons could be popped.
The plaster study we presented was from a bigger mold and was also a more difficult process. Here is where we learned how fast plaster begins to harden; some molds weren’t created because the plaster would dry as it was being poured. Working with more plaster to fill a bigger mold required a lot of trial and error. A few of the plaster molds did not make the cut came from the formwork with partitions. From this process we noticed an organic look at the top of the plaster mold, this came from the plaster pour not covering the complete formwork. Although this came from a simple error it allowed us to view the plaster mold in an organic form. For the final study we kept this same method of incomplete-pouring to give all four plaster molds an organic look.
Part 2 of the third week in the form-finding experiment consisted of the presentation that was made via Skype to Andrew Kudless. The group presented a pavilion made of 4 (5”D x 8”H x 8”W) plaster models that incorporated a pathway made from a larger, long balloon. The conversation with Andrew Kudless was very helpful and went well in that he gave the group feedback on how to make a more organic and skeletal form; he also gave us tips on how to create wider openings for our voids. The next step of our studio will apply what we learned in the form-finding experiments to digital media. The third week closes with a tutorial on Grasshopper administered by our professor, Kevin McClellan.
Susanne M. Rafelski and Wallace F. Marshall. “Building the Cell: Design Principles of Cellular Architecture.” Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, 2008. http://www.nature.com/nrm/journal/v9/n8/full/nrm2460.html