makeLab™ blog

The No-Title Project
June 8, 2012, 4:07 am
Filed under: makeLab design, makeLab Enterprise

-I apologize in advance for the length of this article.

I am not an engineer nor an artist. I’m not a carpenter, welder, mechanic, graphic designer, nor an architect. And presently, I’m not even employed. At this point in time, after much retrospective, rationalization, post-rationalization, analysis, manual and mechanical labor, and 10000+ steps of stairs, I feel incredibly proud of the permanent Ceiling Installation at The A. Alfred Taubman Student Services Building Welcome Center.  The latter, by the way, makes for a longer than usual title to be given to an equally complicated (overlong) professional project of design. As it stands, the project was never named, but it has become quite the conversation piece around campus, and even garnered the respect or lack-thereof of a nickname. Dialogue has always been welcomed. Such a project as many completed by the makeLab, tends to get our best abilities, the ones that we pessimistically believe we don’t possess, out of us. Thus, I become the engineer, the artist, and everything else inside and outside of architecture.

It’s important to note and to thank in advance all the people involved with this project, from Assistant Professor James C. Stevens for bringing forth the challenge, to my better half, Blerta Lici, for helping (free of charge) during the installation stages, as well as, Wayne Guo for helping one of the days with louver installation. Many people contributed to the project’s design iteration and critique. Prof. Martin Schwartz gave his expertise on lighting, and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Ralph Nelson, shared his view on materiality and design editing. Lastly, let us not forget the unique/quirky, but equally important, input of the average freshmen walking the hallways during the late evenings.

Starting in mid-February my partner, Steve Kroodsma, and myself had been engaged in an unusually challenging and complex project. It was offered to the makeLab early September of last year by the university and the CoAD, at which point, it was presented to my partner and me by makeLab director, James Stevens.  I remember in great detail during our first meeting (of which we’re not supposed to talk about) how the problem was described with great frustration. Alternative solution samples were also presented, which amounted to high costs and bland, boring, and frankly inappropriate installations for an architecture school.  Since the construction of the A. Alfred Taubman Student Services Center, the University Welcome Center has seen many bright and warm days; sometimes, too bright and maybe uncomfortably warmer ones, prompting space occupiers to voice their concerns for the under-utilization of the space. It was uncomfortable to work in, while sometimes impossible to run slide shows through the white projector screen. Such challenging issues required a lot of thought and planning to overcome. Thus, we embraced our “Technological” middle name, and decided to give the school something that will define not only what we do, but inspire others’ ambition for good design.

At the finish line, I’d like to explain step by step the arduous process of designing, planning, constructing, assembling, and installing the baffled ceiling. More importantly, the project highlighted the collaborative nature of our work, and the notion that the correct partnership can yield great results. Tolerance and mutual respect between colleagues is sometimes more important than talent and craftsmanship. Our peers make us better, and make architecture better.

Sketches, drawings, and 120 renderings of the sun simulation in an individually constructed 3D Rhino model, yielded the necessary data to construct a three-dimensional volume that resembled a strangely distorted pancake. Each rendering represented the sun exposure image burn on a selected construction plane selected between the existing super-strut structure above and the suspended light elements 24” underneath it. These images were generated for every hour between 9:00am and 6:00pm (daily occupancy period, when natural light affects workflow), on the 21st day of every month for the current year. The renderings were not only important for identifying the problem, but also for comparison with images generated in simulations of the project’s final 3D model. The accumulated data and sun simulations influenced 85% of the final formal design, reinforcing the makeLab philosophy of bottom-up approach in design. The availability of a sprinkler fire suppression system (implemented with the love and care of any contractor-architect collaboration), required that any installation, in the form of a suspended ceiling, should have 50% openness or permeability to meet the fire code. The success of this project was solely dependent on its performance and functionality, hence, using available construction floor plans and taking new measurements would eliminate further derailment during the installation phase. Yet, even the plans provided had discrepancies and of course no fire suppression system included. To circumvent such problems, we had to avoid the erratic placement of the fire suppressant pipes and elbows completely.  (images below)

During the design phase of the project, we decided to emulate a scenario, where the project does not become a static fixture, permanently obstructing maintenance to the space and building structure. Formal flexibility, practicality, and the ability to disassemble with relative ease were important criteria that fit the goals set for functionality.  Choosing ¼” Low Density Fiberboard as the base material for milling, ensured that components would be light in weight and flexible to bend around corners and obstacles during the transportation and installation phase. One of the main disadvantages of LDF was its fragility. Given the nature of our project, where every piece milled on the CNC machine would be unique in size and shape, damaged components would be unnecessary derailments to the main objective. However, the right partnership and meticulous handling of tasks assured that everything went smoothly and quicker than expected, given the number of people involved. 

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Choosing the correct color to paint the custom louvers was a stage of much debate in the makeLab and outside, as it represented more than just aesthetics. The appropriate color, would ensure the absorbance and diffusion of direct light, as well as, keep contextually  in line  with the space.  A different shade, tint, or hue could possibly create a darker than desired environment.  In conjunction with the new structure’s lower than original ceiling plane (8’ from the floor), a darker color would suppress/shrink the volume and possibly diminish functionality during presentations and formal events.

Manufacturing of 171 individual puzzle-like pieces yielded 66 different louvers that had to be glued, sanded, and painted, in limited working space. To be noted is the louvers’ characteristic for never giving away the final design form or application as they lied in the basement hallways beside student activity and curiosity.  During the drying of louvers, hardware was assembled through a simple mechanism that Steve and I came up with to exponentially cut down time (and minimize human casualties). (video below)

The installation phase was surprisingly easier than expected. With a little help (again many thanks), we were able to adjust for miscalculations during the planning phase and improvise on space limitations. The final product will ensure that no matter what aesthetic impact the ceiling has, it will first and foremost accomplish the goals we set.

We never uttered the words “it looks cool” (although it did). We never shared our project as an artistic expression of our post-undergraduate employment frustration (although it maybe was??). We never intended to make architecture without meaning (although meaning has its own viewing platform within the public, and thus, it morphs). Someone, somewhere, even started calling our ceiling “the cloud” or even “the hills?!?”. Anyhow, that innate ability of architecture students to ridicule the unusual or the new (even when it looks repetitious), had me thinking about something that I generally don’t come across too often. It emphasized the possibility of letting a project reveal itself to the public, rather than through words and diagrams. Here is an opportunity to observe the success (or failure/redundancy) of a project through its performance. The people who will never read this blog entry are the final critics perhaps. The possibility to discard preconceived ideas, and allow first impressions to fuel the curiosity is what I took out of my undergraduate education. This project is what I leave behind. 

Designed & Built by

Pandush Gaqi & Steve Kroodsma


Taking care of business…
September 18, 2011, 5:02 pm
Filed under: makeLab Enterprise

The past month has been very busy at the newly established MakeLab 2.0 Enterprise. Natalie Haddad, Steve Kroodsma, and myself to a lesser role, have been building a new CNC machine that will be exclusively used by MakeLab 2.0 Enterprise members. Such endeavor has been possible through the influence and the support of The Coleman Foundation. The mission of implementing entrepreneurship within the student body has come to light in MakeLab’s expansion to the new quarters. The hard work of all who have been actively participating and giving their contribution shows clearly in the construction progress of the new 7’x12′ CNC-machine (5’x10′ operable).

The process is somewhat slow but thorough. It involves precision and detailing, such that it may perhaps surpass the accuracy of the original ShopBot CNC-machine at the lab when complete. So far, the table bed and supports are complete, with the assembly of the gantry coming soon. The PC that will run the CNC was donated and assembled by Steve, while being retrofitted into a wooden box (tower?). The new machine will include also a vacuum table, facilitating further the production phase in all future projects.

My colleagues and I would like to thank Assistant Dean and Director of Graduate Studies, Ralph Nelson, for his contribution to the MakeLab with the tools donation, guidance, and support for the enterprise. Special thanks to Director James C. Stevens for making it all possible.  Lets keep making good (great?) things!

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By: Pandush Gaqi


Design Mill Build

Exhibition Walls – Arts League of Michigan
March 31, 2011, 11:39 am
Filed under: makeLab Student Post

Blanketed by the urban fabric we always find the undisturbed environment that stand out from the rest with the backing of its history, culture, and the undeniably strong character of the people that occupy it. The Art’s League of Michigan is a non-profit organization that understands such value, as their old building comes from the roots of the old growing Detroit. The Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center is especially important in the context of old culture, representing togetherness, appreciation for the community and collaboration between many different art platforms and media. The Art’s League of Michigan however is not only preserving such character but they are adding yet another layer of value that stands out all alone. They have transformed this old building into a center that is full of life throughout the days of the week, with music, poetry, and of course art exhibits. The gallery space is always showcasing local artists. The African and African-American art includes exhibits of quilts, paintings, chair designs, mosaic tiles; mix-media pieces that through complexity and interpretative design give the gallery an inimitable look.

The exhibition walls, currently being produced for the main gallery and event space, intend to give the curators of the arts center maximum flexibility to manipulate the exhibition surfaces for the appropriate event. There are currently nine exhibition wall components in production, with six of them providing the most linear display surface totaling at 64 linear feet. These units will free the currently occupied walls from the hanging art, and provide a more contextual plane to represent the art. By incorporating meaning in a puzzle-like system, the art displays become a new way of expression for the Arts League. In many ways, the gallery is the focus of the Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center and thus the display systems will be showcased in many different ways, including as standalone units.

Derived from the West and South African Adinkra writing systems, we have picked several symbols that not only represent the people of the League but they are a way of connecting the components. The arrangement of these components, followed specifically with the intent to change the meaning of the story told by these displays, becomes a powerful tool in engaging the viewers and the community. These symbols have been used for centuries in different quilt prints, rock carving, etchings, paintings and many other formats. They represent spirits that embody the qualities of all things, and thus represent the people that showcase them.

Display cases are held together through joint assembly, which in themselves become part of the main concept. This linear representation of the Adinkra writing system, adds an architechtonic quality to otherwise plane surfaces, hinting at the arrangment orientation of the unit. There are four bench units that when stacked become pedestals for sculptural media. They can be rearranged to become part of a larger system or as standalone units retaining their individual meaning of the symbol-phrases. The bench units are definitely a welcomed addition to the gallery, as they will provide that much more space for 3D art exhibits, seating, and even food catering services during formal events. When all components are stacked on top of each other, they become a wall component piece.

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Design Built
Pandush Gaqi
Brent Dekryger
Pandush Gaqi
MakeLab Fellow Designer

December 30, 2010, 5:48 pm
Filed under: makeLab Student Post

The word ‘studio’ is derived from ‘study’. Our object is not to know the answers before we do the work. It’s to know them after we do it.

-Bruce Mau

With the ending of a busy semester, withdrawal probably sets in. It was tiring, and of course challenging, but some great work was done in the newly christened digital fabrication lab. The fulfilling experience came after the dust settled, literally. We went in with ideas in mind, and came out with some pretty amazing installations that people will probably talk about in the near future. I don’t like to be presumptuous of course, clearly not one of my many character flaws… I just like to mention that we learned a thing or two about ourselves and our potential.

I started going here in the spring semester of 2007, and after graduating recently, I feel that my preconceived ideas, assumptions about this field of study, and of course my own personal goals have changed. I never thought I would be making things by the time I was done. Studying architecture and making architecture finally collided with one another during my last semester.  To paraphrase Bruce Mau, the moment when two objects collide and generate a third. The third object is where the interesting work is. I just find the parallelism of theory and practice as two objects colliding to generate a different point of view, very interesting.

I know there isn’t much left to say about the Bench team, only two videos showing the assembly and the final project production. Wrapped up in two minutes and forty seconds of video, the bench seems like it assembled itself. The marvel of it all is that people sitting in it, that will never get to see the process, will wonder how something like it could ever be built given the modest tools and a simple 3-axis CNC machine.  Some others will sit and never care.

Reform by Design
December 11, 2010, 11:15 pm
Filed under: makeLab Student Post

Let’s talk design! During the course of this semester, I have become a different designer in both thinking and doing. I no longer belong to a large group of design students that let loose their imagination with limitless power, yielding the Godly finger and turning wild ideas into hypothetical (and most of the time unrealistic) projects. Such ambition is not all bad, for we all have and always will design to subvert our own feelings of humble beginnings. That’s why we strive for greatness. That’s why we dream big.

There is, however, one fundamental achievement to reach in architecture (coupled with many more like: don’t steal ideas, don’t make enemies in studio or practice, respect eachother’s projects, etc…), and that is to finally become a MAKER. With the technology in hand, making becomes knowledge, in this way thinking and doing, design and fabrication, and prototype and final design become blurred, interactive, and part of a non-linear means of innovation. If you rely on a certain definite process as a way to make work, you will never discuss anything new. By understanding what belongs and what does not belong within a process you learn how to self-edit. Regardless of the outcome, you have made something. Take my advice, be original (don’t try too hard), give everything and make good things!

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I want to talk about my fellow colleagues: Natalie, Brent, and Ben, who have become heroes of mine over the past couple of months. They are what they set out to be from the beginning of the class…makers. Their project not only speaks for itself, it screams for attention in a desolate whitewashed-business-type-walls-because-we-had-to-and-can’t-paint-them-any-other-color hallway. Their project was not innovative in design, by any means, but it certainly was an in-your-face statement of design, something that set a higher standard for every other architecture student taking a digital fabrication course in the future.

I was able to witness the process of design take shape throughout the semester. The team poured their sweat and hard work into their project; yet made the process look effortless (see the time-lapse video below). After all the rib structure pieces were cut, the assembly was easy. The concrete pieces used were coated with a wet-look water sealer (same as the plywood). The final assembly took a bit more adjusting because the concrete pieces needed post-processing work. All in all, everything worked out! Stay tuned for some more info on the next blog entry!


Pandush Gaqi is a senior undergrad at Lawrence Technological University and currently taking Digital Fabrication class in the MArch program.

Hot Project – Team Hot Sauce
November 12, 2010, 11:11 pm
Filed under: makeLab Student Post

Since my last blog entry Team Hot Sauce has been in final production mode. Their efforts extend to sleepless all-nighters in the MakeLab cutting molds on the CNC-machine. Their design has long been finalized as they have already gotten approval from the administration for final placement of the piece. Their project has morphed into an elaborate bench constructed of a waffle-like rib structure and concrete-made cells that serve as the seating pieces. Context renderings and digital images give a better idea to what is expected of the final product.

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Much of the design process, until this time, has been the milling of foam molds for concrete pouring. They consist of single or double sided cut pieces on 4’x8’x2” pieces of medium density (blue) extruded polystyrene foam. The predicted time limit for this part of the project has already passed but at least they are on the right track to completing a complex and mature project. Some of the pictures above illustrate the already completed pieces, and the milling process on the CNC.

The project is a mix of two typologies: the profile cutting of the ribs, and the horizontal finishing of the curved mold surfaces. The already purchased material for the ribs is plywood, while the concrete is a high fiber mix to facilitate casting. Tool-paths need yet to be generated for the rib structure, also the pouring of the concrete hasn’t been completed yet, but the team has the arm power to accomplish their goals.  I foresee a few obstacles in the production of the indoor bench. There is the risk of not finishing in time, because of glitches or kinks that need to be worked out through production, but more importantly the model constructed was not adequate or big enough to show all typologies in place. My advice to the team would be to make a full scale section piece of the bench so that there is a real idea of what the final piece will look like. This of course can produce extra work in a very tight schedule for the team, and might not suit them at this point, but it’s something worth thinking about. Hope they get the results they deserve. The project has incredible potential. Until next time…

Follow my blog at for my personal projects in the class.


Pandush Gaqi is a senior undergrad at Lawrence Technological University and currently taking Digital Fabrication class in the MArch program.

Gizmo HOT-HOT SAUCE 2.0 – 2.1
October 14, 2010, 5:37 pm
Filed under: makeLab Student Post

First off, let’s start with the announcement that team hyPERFORM have illegally changed their name to “Team Hot Sauce”. They believe the integrity of the new name will bring much more attention to their project.  The project was last left off at the design phase, where the team decided to abandon the form made with the 3D printer, so that they could focus on the capabilities of the CNC machine. The decision to pursue a waffle-like structure design was primarily derived from the future plans of creating an installation for the school. This new design process of the Gizmo was a trial experiment on building techniques; mold making, casting, and friction-fit joint connections.

The next project for the team consists of a waffle-construction type installation for a hallway corner on the lower level of the UTLC building. It will include precast concrete forms, derived from CNC extruded polystyrene molds, integrated with vertical and horizontal profile-cut elements that undulate. There were a lot of iterations to the design and the processes, and it still continues to change at this level, but they have moved forward with what they believe will be a successful integration of precast concrete forms in the waffle cells to support seating and lounging.

The process consisted of three concrete precast models that followed the form of the waffle structure previously built. The two parts were built with different scales, thus the incorporation of the two was not successful. It only informed continuation from one material to the other. This led the team to come up with ways of incorporating the two. The pictures below show a full scale cell construction that incorporates both the waffle structure and the concrete component together seamlessly. The slide show below also shows a variant of the design at the early stages.

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The team still has to overcome some difficult translations within the software, since their inexperience with Rhino4 and Grasshopper3d has forced them to further iterate the design of the installation. I personally believe that the design is wonderful, and it will create a dynamic space that will at least attract the attention of traffic passing by. I don’t know how much it will be used, but at this point the presumption that it will is part of the creative process. The weight of the concrete poses another issue in relation to implementation. The failure to find a replacement material has pushed them to perforate the concrete without compromising the strength of each component. If such perforations had a second function added to them, the implementation would make a much more complex and useful installation at the end. Since the design is not yet finalized, such ideas are not far from reach. I’ll be watching their progress closely.

Follow my blog at for my personal projects in the class.


Pandush Gaqi is a senior undergrad at Lawrence Technological University and currently taking Digital Fabrication class in the MArch program. 

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