A framework for coordinated models of architectural precast concrete facades

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Collins, Jeffrey
Gentry, T. Russell
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Architects are often unaware of details, constraints, and variables that define and deliver architectural components. Many factors such as constructability, budget, or scheduling commitments, force changes to design concepts – potentially resulting in time-consuming redesign or loss of design aspirations – because incorporation of fabrication and expert knowledge occurs too late in the process. At the same time, fabricators, obligated to re-model these components – typically via error-prone manual translation – may be unaware of critical architectural properties envisioned but difficult to represent in design intent documents. The focus of this dissertation is to establish a new framework for coordination among project actors, linking currently disparate global and local descriptions of architectural intent and corresponding components via parametric digital models, with the aim of improving representations, enabling more informed conversations, and streamlining exchanges during early stages of design. In order to show the potential of this framework, research is focused on architectural precast concrete façades. Building façades are especially relevant to both architectural theory and practice as they are critical to a buildings’ character but remarkably complex in assembly. The architectural precast façade offers, in particular, a system whose parts are discreet through surface panelization, customizable via extensive features, and fundamental to the overall buildings’ aesthetic. Protocols and techniques for generating and linking customizable digital models for coordination are documented for a variety of surface patterns and panel feature types found in precedent buildings with architectural precast concrete façades. These models are used to demonstrate the process of developing parametric maps, both as a means of engaging issues of fabrication in early stages of design as well as to demonstrate benefits of incorporating such maps in future state workflows. Knowledge gained from recording various processes undertaken, conversations held, and documents produced by precast fabricators during the shop drawing phase of their work informs the parametric maps from both global and local perspectives. The strategies from the precedent analysis are then implemented through the exploration of design and fabrication issues raised by novel student proposals. The research suggests that the current disconnect between architectural intent and fabrication knowledge contributes to limited design exploration, and ultimately, reduces use of architectural precast concrete façades and furthermore, that linked digital models can stimulate interaction between designers and fabricators – bridging currently disparate workflows and value systems – while simultaneously enabling design exploration, incorporating fabrication details, and allowing new opportunities for precast buildings to emerge.
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