The Breakout Grant Finalist: Industrial Manufacturing Research-Creation Project by Naomi Frangos

This research-creation project explores a combination of glass and plaster as a shared surface of production that aims to activate our sense of tactility, connecting touch and vision, mediating ways in which light is reflected, refracted, and transmitted by a building wall component. Merging artisanal practices with standardized building components, this project strives to deliver a mass customization approach to revitalize lost craft in industrial manufacturing processes. By robotically tooling cast plaster blocks and panels – particularly, glass fiber reinforced gypsum (GFRG) – and using their surfaces as molds for blown and cast glass, their surface tensions actuate both material behavioral and phenomenal properties. This method further gives design agency to the relationships between positive and negative space, surface and volumetric forms, and varying degrees of translucency.

Building on Naomi’s research and teaching on the agency of molds and tooled surfaces as design instruments, this project will evolve the research and product outcomes by focusing on rigorous study of: 1) “programming surface behavior” through the design of tools and scripting tooling patterns to produce a productive space of design for casting / molding a secondary material; 2) reconfigurability of tools and molds to generate economic, efficient and effective design and production that limits waste while offering maximum flexibility for innovation and variability to promote sustainable design practices for custom repetitive manufacturing.

Co-evolution exists in the making process – in relationships between tool and material, and mold and cast element, as well as through variable outputs. Multi-part, reconfigurable molds are used partially and repeatedly, and cast pieces are used to reinform new molds – achieved through blended analog and digital computational thinking and making. While the memory of the original mold is embedded in the made work, it remains to be decoded through recurring recollections in the act of making and in the made artifact. With the possibility of creating reconfigurable molds, different widths, sizes, and orientations can be used, and variable glass components can be made from which to compose large, aggregated wall surfaces of stackable glass blocks or suspended glass form screen (see for examples). As a mass-produced large-scale surface, the design addresses custom repetitive manufacturing as cost-effective, efficient, and practical design uniting hand and machine, tactile and industrial, art and architecture allowing material intuition to have agency – with craft at the core. Today’s making culture bridging material science, technology, and fabrication to directly inform architectural design at the tectonic scale through machine production have redefined craft. This project aims to advance and revive the role of plaster in industrial production by reconsidering plaster components made for façade assemblies as molds whose surface design engages digital automation. Post-production tooling of plaster surfaces shaped in real-time by robotic manipulation offers opportunities for both form-finding and form-making to occur. As part of the research and prototyping of this project, glass blown into textured molds will test pressure and blowing orientation for capturing surface impressions onto the glass. Similarly, cast glass in various layers against the mold will experiment with different translucencies and color densities to discover how complex optical qualities can be achieved. A combination of these production techniques aims to disclose material perceptions and light transmittance through surface tactility, and in effect, mediate outdoor and indoor spaces, private and public, darkness and light. Testing various configurations of molds extends design beyond the individual modular part to include the effect of an aggregated whole.

Image: Prototype developed for “Beyond the Surface” with Hapteklab and supported by Corning Museum of Glass.