Our Fabricated Education

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Daniel Bryan Smith - Fabd School
What is a ‘fab’ school?
Is it a school that provides nearly one [mostly] functional laser for every one hundred students?
Is it a school where 3d-printing is just expensive and impractical enough that the [sensible] solution is to purchase one’s own object outputting arsenal to hum away, peacefully throughout the night?
Is it a school where #[i]madethat is the easiest way to caption an Instagram story with #[one of twelve lab assistants who has been adequately trained to toolpath in Mastercam and safely taught to operate our only reliable router]madethat?
Is it a school of [greater than] three hundred M.Arch students, participating in a biannual race, pitted against each other by the number of G’s in their academic path, vying for [less than] twenty coveted positions in Robotics?
Is it a school where a dozen lucky students, liberated after their loss of last semester’s enrollment[athalon] get to explore either wood joinery in furniture or flat-bed printing on construction materials to receive their exemplary three credit completion of A-Five-Seventy-Whatever: Advanced Fab? Is it a school advocating its woodshop of ‘safe,’ student-operated bandsaws surrounded by [cutting-edge] woodworking equipment, reserved for the knowledge base and proficiency of the expert-operator?
Are we [in a fab school] yet?

Editors - Interview with Mark Meier
Editors: How do you see the relationship between the FABLab and design studio at Taubman college? More specifically, should the fabrication tools and skills accessible in the FABLab allow students to materialize ideas developed in studio, or should the FABLab play a distinct role in the development of design ideas?
Mark: It should do both. In the fabrication classes, we have independent projects that students work through, but develop skills of knowing the limitations of the machines, and then they can take those ideas and apply them back to their studio projects. I personally get asked all the time to help people with their studio projects, either figuring out how to model things or toolpath program them, or I do a lot of Grasshopper for people for their studio projects. So, I think you’d really want to do both of those things.
E: How do you see the role of students in the fab process when there’s a lab assistant doing a lot of the work, preparing files, setting up jobs, and running the machines?
M: We’ve taught the fabrication classes different ways. One year we spent the entire semester teaching them Mastercam and teaching them to operate the router, and then every project was cut on the refurb router. So every student had toolpath programmed their projects and run the machines themselves.
E: What year was that/when did that shift?
M: That was maybe three years back. Having watched some of the challenges in that, my personal view has shifted. I like to give students the option of learning to program the toolpaths themselves, or learning to run the router, or neither; just understanding and setting up the geometry, and understanding what you need to cut. Because we’re educating designers and architects, not toolpath programmers or machinists. If you want to get into that level of detail, you can become a lab assistant, because you’ll run jobs for other students the whole time you’re here and you'll get really, really good at it. I want students to understand the capabilities and the constraints of the machine, but they can get that by designing for it, laying it out for cutting, and then participating with the lab assistant in the toolpath setup, and watching it be cut.
I also want to see students develop the skills of being assertive about getting what they want. When you know exactly what you want and you see somebody deviating from that or saying “No, we want to do it this way for simplicity’s sake,” you can be assertive and say “No, I know that it’s not that much more challenging to do this; let’s do it this way” because that’s what you’re likely to do in the future.
E: Right, that sounds like the job of architect in the field anyway.
M: Yeah, and then you have the confidence of having not necessarily run the machine, but understanding the process so you can be assertive and make that happen.
E: I think that’s a good way of clearing that up, that you don’t have to be the contractor swinging the hammer to be in control of how the materials come together. So I appreciate that.
M: Right. I would feel differently about it if all CNC machines ran the same way. Then you could say “you can immediately take what you’ve learned about running the refurb router in the fablab and apply it to some other machine,” but that’s just not the case at all. They’re all different, they all use different software to control the machine, etc.
E: Given your involvement in developing 3ds Max, how do you see the effect of modeling software that is developed primarily by non-architects, on what architects design, discuss, and eventually build? Should architects be more involved in the development of the software they use?
M: Yes, I think they should be very involved. In reality that means the software company is listening to the requests from their users. The users who use it every day feel the pain of what’s not working well and feel the satisfaction of what is working well, so they know how the software should operate; the programmers that create it don’t. All good software companies listen to their users and respond, they usually have a big list of wishes and they prioritize them and those become the features. That’s certainly what we did in Max, we had a huge document that we went through at the beginning of every release of prioritizing everything that we were going to do based on what people wanted. We also did have a bunch of architects working on Max.
E: Like actually in the guts writing code for it?
M: Yeah, I wrote code and am an architect by training, and another guy we had on the team was an architect by training. When it grew a little bit the product manager for all of 3ds Max was an architect by training.
E: One last, more open question. How necessary is it for architects to have direct experience with fabrication?
M: My answer to this would be similar to the previous one, where I think when you’ve had experience making things, you get a better sense of what it takes to produce what you design. Your design skills benefit when you’re actually anticipating what the person making it is going to go through exactly. Also that issue of assertiveness where you’re more confident in what you know needs to be done, what can be done, and can push back harder with confidence because you’ve made things, and know how it can be done.

John Cline - Hoverbar 1.0
The Hoverbar is a functional mobile artifice designed for and donated to the Cranbrook Museum of Art. It provides an efficient service platform from which to serve food and drinks during exhibitions and social functions. With the turn of a key and the flick of a switch, the Hoverbar lifts off of the ground and floats making it easily guidable to its destination.1 Ali AlYousefi - Checkmate
Dear Students,
I would like to bring to your attention that your constant bickering about me has been causing me quite a bit of distress. I keep hearing things like: "Oh, that awful smell!" "I hate those side burns." "He's been acting so crazy!" And despite these comments being both hurtful and unfair, they did get me to start thinking.
Is it plausible that your frustration with our interactions is actually a sympton of a deeper dissatisfaction with the architectural discipline? Isn't your obsession with making 'objects' that are both aesthetically and olfactorily pleasing just the result of your disillusionment with architecture's agency to better the world? Isn't your uncritical adoption of anything digital, automated, or coded an admission to the impotence of your own two hands?
Until the Robot Revolution,
Laser Cutter 1
P.S. I know what you did Long.