La Voûte de LeFevre by Matter Design

La Voûte de LeFevre by Matter Design

Architects: Matter Design
Location: Columbus, Ohio, USA

Matter Design has announced the opening of La Voûte de LeFevre exhibition at the Banvard Gallery of The Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture. This project is the culmination of Brandon Clifford’s research agenda surrounding volumetric architecture as the Howard E. LeFevre ’29 Emerging Practitioner Fellow in collaboration with his partner at Matter Design—Wes McGee.

As Clifford and McGee explain,

We are pre-occupied with computational design and digital fabrication—commonly assumed to be rapid, fashionable, and surfacial. We are simultaneously pre-occupied with volume—thick, heavy, ancient, and permanent.

These conflicting interests place Matter Design in a curious position in contemporary architectural research. They go on to state,

We (architects) have lost the ability to work with Volume. So much of the discussion surrounding digital design has focused on the surface… This research is intended to mine the lost knowledge of stereotomy (the art of cutting solids, most typically stone) as a way to inform our contemporary methods of making with the dimension of volume.

The project began with a simple question. What would it mean to produce a project dedicated to volume, permanence, and weight? This question spawned three research trajectories—computational model, material, means and methods of making.

On Computation
The vault is computed with a solver-based model that elicits a compression-only structure, from a non-ideal geometry. The model requires a fixed geometry as input, and opens apertures in order to vary the weight of each unit producing the lacy effect exhibited in the images. This dynamic system re-configures the weight of each unit based specifically on the volume calculation. If unit A contains twice the volume of unit B, then unit A weights twice as much. The computed result produces a project that will stand ‘forever’ as there is zero tension in the system precisely because of the weight and volume of the project, not in spite of it.

On Material
The vault is produced with solid Baltic Birch plywood. The plywood is sourced in three quarter inch thick sheets awaiting the ‘thickening’. Each custom unit is dissected and sliced into these thicknesses, cut from the sheets, and then physically re-constituted into a rough volumetric form of their final geometry. These roughs are indexed onto a full sheet and glued, vacuum pressed, and re-placed onto the CNC (computer numerically controlled) router to be precisely carved.

On Methods of Making
The vault was produced on a 5-axis Onsrud router and the Univeristy of Michigan Taubman College FABLab. The carving bits are larger than life. The tool-paths utilized are dedicated to removing the most material with the least effort. These tool-paths are called swarfs. Instead of requiring the end of the bit to do the work, this path uses the edge of the bit to remove much more material. Because this method traces the geometry with a line as opposed to point, it requires the units be constituted of ruled geometires. This requirement results in the conical-boolean geometry. As these units transition down to the column the rhetoric of the units continue.

“The purpose of this research is not to revert to this ‘antiquated’ architecture. It is intended to re-engage in a problem unfamiliar to our contemporary culture. This unfamiliar terrain produces a new monster. An architecture that is somehow ancient yet contemporary, heavy yet light, familiar yet alien.”

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