Project 2: Architectural Intervention Design System

The second project will focus on a site of your choice within Museumlab as a location for an architectural intervention using a plaster form. The work could be a continuation of your first project or begin from a new premise. As before, you will be creating a design workflow usable by multiple authors, then demonstrating it by fabricating full-scale samples in plaster. These will be tested in-situ and the final artifacts will have the opportunity to remain on display past the end of the semester.

The key objective is the development and documentation of a workflow which incorporates appropriate elements of both digital design and expressive human skill and intuition. The production of sample artifacts is the means to demonstrate the workflow. The success of the projects will be gauged along two trajectories:

  1. The system designed: The project creates an enjoyable and robust design experience, encouraging sustained practice and interaction.
  2. The work produced: The project results in the making of compelling and novel design artifacts which reflect the hybrid explorations.

The museum is quite interested in at least one project continuing to work with the studiolab arch. This iteration could expand the scope of the site, e.g. to not only work with the flat face but also the adjoining wall and intervening ledge.

A secondary objective is directing at least one project toward means and materials which could be further developed by museum staff into an exhibit.


  • Wed Feb 26: project release, team formation
  • Wed Mar 4: project pitch to museum staff (on campus)
  • week of April 6: first in-situ test
  • week of April 27: final installation and event


  • pitch presentation
  • weekly prototypes (TBD on a per-project basis)
  • a final report delivered as a post on the course blog including
    • discussion of the system objectives
    • a description of the design process in use
    • video clip documenting the design process
    • photos documenting the fabrication process
  • multiple plaster artifacts fabricated at scale to fit the site

Site Context

Museum Lab provides a unique context in which to explore the themes of the course. The ethos of the organization shares an emphasis on creative process and experimentation. The museum building also provides partially demolished remnants of the plaster craft central to our work this semester. Conceived as a ‘beautiful ruin” many of the ornamental details from the original architecture now read as incomplete. This partially deconstructed site provides an exciting context to imagine new affordances for a very old material. Our site visit in February was intended to familiarize you with the museum and give you an opportunity to document sites of interest.


Running molds. Custom profiles combined with custom sled tracks or mechanisms can produce both straight or curved extruded forms.

Polyurethane molds. Patterning for molds can incorporate a wide variety of materials, digitally fabricated forms, and handwork. If your idea would require the use of multiple molds or extremely large molds, please consult with the instructors.

Plaster molds. Convex plaster forms can be molded using a rigid plaster mold given suitable release agents. This is especially applicable to larger curves used as base forms.

Troweling and tooling. Hand tools for plaster are used to render flat and textured surfaces. The addition of mechanism or custom jigs could add a systematic form to the treatment of surfaces with trowels, combs, and brushes.

Green plaster carving. Plaster in the initial stages of curing can be carved or cut.

Color and inclusions. Plaster can be painted or also tinted using dry-powder pigments. Objects or granular aggregate material can be incorporated directly in wet plaster.

Idiosyncratic forming processes. There are boundless possibilities for casting plaster using ad hoc or single-use molds, or rendering onto armatures or lath forms. E.g., plaster could be cast directly into natural soil impressions.

Composition and accretion. Individual plaster elements can be assembled with other objects and worked material, either into mold patterns or directly into final artifacts.

Digital fabrication. Laser-cutting, 3D printing, CNC milling, algorithmic Grasshopper modeling, and parametric CAD.

dFAB Robot Lab. The workflow could include robotic manipulation of plaster. However, due to the short timeline, we discourage significant development of novel end-of-arm tooling. Please check with the instructors if you have questions about scope or feasibility. Groups working with the robot will need at least one member already certified to use the lab.

dFAB Motion Capture. The lab supports capturing tool trajectories in both batch mode and real-time. In batch mode, the system can generate a CSV file of rigid-body trajectory data for multiple objects, suitable for post-processing in Python or Grasshopper. For this project timeline, we discourage real-time interaction systems. Tool capture involves creating a custom marker fixture for the tool, calibrating the cameras and defining bodies, then developing a protocol for recording short well-defined movements.


A central thesis of Human Machine Virtuosity is that human skill can be deeply expressive in a way that is complementary to the precision and scalability of digital design tools.  This is a middle path between pure traditional craft and industrial manufacturing, which uses mostly standardized processes.

For each workflow, a central question is identifying and locating the full decision process in space and time. A central tension exists between the abstracted decisions involved in CAD and algorithm and the embodied, tactile decisions involved in physical skill. So for example, if a candidate process is fully resolved during the digital fabrication stages, it is worthwhile to consider how meaningful decisions could be incorporated into plaster rendering process.

Modularity is a powerful heuristic for adding discrete tactile choices. So for example, a system of compatible shapes could be independently fabricated and then composed at final scale. Similarly, a mold with removable parts could defer decisions to the casting stage and generate a combinatorial design space.

Some degree of randomness is intrinsic to physical media, especially semi-liquids like curing plaster. This could be accentuated using deliberately random gestures such as allowing plaster to form free-flow layers, using drip application, or shattering cured material. These processes can require a great deal of tactile skill to create fully-considered effects in the midst of stochastic outcomes.

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