makeLab™ blog

Dining Chair inspired the wRIGHT way
May 8, 2012, 6:48 pm
Filed under: makeLab design, makeLab Student Post | Tags: ,

MakeLab’s role as LTU’s digital fabrication lab found the perfect challenge in the design of a new dining chair for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Affleck House. Designed by Azubike Ononye and Nicholas Cataldo the chair needed to respond to the unique setting of the house. The Affleck House, being one of Wright’s “Usonian homes” which were designed specifically for middle income families, seemed to be the perfect source of inspiration for the chair. One of the major factors that drove the design was the issue of maintaining a low cost while producing something worthy enough of being in the Affleck House. Aside from cost issue, another factor that governed the design was the idea of mobility, which required the design to have a stack-able property.

Based on the requirements stated above, we decided that the chair had to be cut from one sheet of 4’ X 8’ birch plywood and started out small scale on the laser cutter, incorporating the twisting, stretching, and bending properties of plywood explored by Nicholas Cataldo and Kyle Gonzalez in the fall semester of 2011. This gave us the opportunity to explore other potentials and gave us a sense of the structural framework for the chair. It was amazing to see Professor Stevens turn into a mathematics tutor as he was converting model dimensions to actual dimension. That gave us something to laugh about when we discovered that our initial model of the chair had to be tweaked because in reality we couldn’t fit two cuts on one piece of 4’ X 8’ birch plywood, which would have a huge implication on the cost. We also discovered the surface area of the wood cutout was a lot and would have a negative impact on the stack-able character of the chair because of its dead weight. We adjusted our model by removing the arm rests which were initially part of the design, and introduced a slant cut to the legs of the chair to remove some of the dead weight. Another challenge we encountered was double milling the wood piece on the CNC machine. We had to improvise by creating an jig, which was screwed to the machine to avoid a shift in the X and Y axis when the piece was flipped. Then we were left with the metal work which involved cutting the steel tubing, bending it with a tube bender, inserting the stainless steel dowels- at the joints of the chair to ensure firm connection, and finally welding these joints.

From a business perspective one of the great features of the chair is its “value flexibility”. I call it value flexibility because the materiality of the chair can be changed to meet different value targets without changing the design itself. For example, the birch plywood used for the chair could be exchanged for a higher quality piece of plywood, thus increasing the value. So ideally the same design can fit different calibers of clients from lower to middle to the upper class.

In addition, the dining chair design provides us with the opportunity to explore TIG welding and metal works. Thus, the material syllabus of the makeLab was expanded. The makeLab not only utilizes wood, plastic, resins, and concrete but also metal and its related fields.

Learning Architectural Solutions by Eluding Restrictions(LASER)…..

Restriction is a common term experienced within the professional and academic discipline of architecture. The expression of creativity in design is often hindered by these restrictions and as a result, the makeLab aims to promote and encourage the exploration of possible solutions to this problem. Following my interview with Natalie Haddad, a first year Master of Architecture student, I understood how she solved the makeLab’s need for proper digital fabrication machines for small scale work. The following is an excerpt from that interview:

ME: Of all machines capable of bolstering the digital fabrication process, why did you choose the Laser cutter?

NATALIE: I chose the laser cutter because I wanted to build a machine that would be helpful in rapid prototyping of designs on a small scale.

ME: For the fact that you are not an electrical engineering major, how did you put the machine together?

NATALIE: I found open source plans for building a laser cutter online at Buildlog. The site provided a listing of all the parts needed as well as documentation on how to assemble major components. There was also an extensive forum which helped me to troubleshoot some problems I had along the way.

ME: Plunging deeper into the problems you had to troubleshoot, what were some of the construction problems you encountered?

NATALIE: One of the biggest problems I faced while assembling the machine was that I sloppily soldered the stepper motor drivers onto the board and when I tested them, one caught fire and the other two over heated. Another difficult task was the wiring of the electronics. There is a safety loop integrated within the board. This safety loop controls the amount of power reaching the laser at any given time. Power to the laser will shut off if the cover is opened while the laser is firing, the emergency button is pressed, or if the laser cooling system is not working. The wiring of this connection was difficult but after troubleshooting all the components, I was able to fix the problem and command the laser from Mach3.

ME: Hmm…. Mach3?! What exactly is the Mach3? Is it some kind of software that bridges the computer design to the laser cutter?

NATALIE: Well… The laser cutter runs off of Mach3. For vector cutting, any 2D lines can be brought into a program called Cut2D. The program processes the file and adds to the code so the laser can be triggered on and off during a cut. For raster engraving, Mach3 has a plugin that accepts both bitmap files and jpegs.

ME: if you were to construct another Laser cutter, are there any opportunities you will consider exploiting?

NATALIE: If I were to build a laser again, the first thing I will consider is making the bed larger. The current bed is 12″ x 20″ and it is a 40W laser. I would also make some modifications to the skin of the machine so that it could better adapt to use. For example, better access to scraps that have fallen through the aluminum grate.

ME: Compared to the CNC machine which the makeLab already possesses, is there any major difference?

NATALIE: The laser is a tool that allows designs to be created into prototypes at a smaller scale than the CNC. It also brings new capabilities and allows for engraving, or precision cutting on a small scale.

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