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DesignFAB Students bring Wright into the 21st Century

Students of Santiago Perez's Design and Fabrication program

Santiago Pérez, Assistant Professor  in the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture, is leading a Design and Fabrication class whose students have been tasked with designing and building an information pavilion to accompany the Bachman-Wilson House. The pavilion will serve as an observation post for visitors while the house is under construction, and later will serve as a center for information about Bachman-Wilson House and other architectural points of interest at Crystal Bridges.  His students have completed their design and are now in the fabrication phase of their project, constructing prototypes to test their designs before they begin the construction process on Crystal Bridge’s grounds. In today’s blog, Dr. Pérez provides some insight into his students’ process and reveals a few teasers about how the pavilion will look.   If you want to know more, you won’t want to miss Santiago Pérez’s Architecture Lecture at Crystal Bridges at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21.  

Students in the “DesignFAB” 5th year studio at the Fay Jones School of Architecture presented the final drawings, models and full-scale prototype structural bay for the Crystal Bridges Pavilion project. As shown in the photo, we are prefabricating the pavilion components and details at full scale, to test and verify materials, connections, and fittings prior to the full production kickoff later this month.

This is a very rough “mock-up” of a single pavilion bay—the steel, wood, and composite material details will be greatly refined and simplified in the final installed pavilion.

Students of Santiago Perez's Design and Fabrication program, along with Crysal Bridges Executive Director Rod Bigelow, Director of Faclities and Grounds Scott Eccleston, and Perez, pose inside part of the prototype for their  Crystal Bridges Pavilion.

Students of Santiago Perez’s Design and Fabrication program, along with Crystal Bridges Executive Director Rod Bigelow and Perez, pose inside part of the prototype for their Crystal Bridges Pavilion.

The project is an exploration of both twentieth-century construction techniques, using “off the shelf” materials and technologies, and twenty-first-century “File-To-Fab” and “Mass-Customization” design and production methods. This hybrid model combines two design and construction cultures, and their corresponding tools and techniques that are not usually integrated in a single project.

Whereas “Design-Build” practices have utilized standardized materials and construction methods using hand-craft and power tools, contemporary “Digital Fabrication” practices employ computational design, computer-driven (CNC) machining, and customized components developed using “File-To-Fab” methods. The Pavilion project inaugurates a hybrid practice model, combining both standard material processes and digital design and production. This new “designFAB” model is the basis of the studio’s exploration, guided by the goal of achieving the simplicity and directness of Wright’s “Usonian” concepts, while employing new technologies and aesthetics made possible by digital design tools.

While inspired by the Usonian philosophy of Wright, the project more generally considers the often misused term “organic.” The word organic has been associated in the past with stylistic or aesthetic forms deviating from the strict, orthogonal geometry of much twentieth-century modernist architecture. It has also been used to loosely describe an ethic of looking toward nature for inspiration in the design and production of architectural form, based more on the “appearance” of nature than on the underlying fundamental processes informing an “economy of material and form.” Contemporary 21st-century architectural practices have challenged the assumptions hidden within the term organic, reinterpreting the aesthetic and functional ideas latent in this term. The pavilion project’s translucent Roof Shell utilizes a computationally generated pattern, efficient in terms of both bracing the structure and diffusing the dappled light that will enhance the pavilion’s integration with the wooded landscape at Crystal Bridges.


Stay tuned for additional posts, leading up to my lecture title “Rethinking Wright.” -Santiago R. Perez

Linda DeBerry
Senior Copy Editor / Publications Manager

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