Pyramid Scheming with Michigan Architecture Students

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Friday, March 29, 2013
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Four truncated pyramidal units make up Stalactites. (Harold-Sprague Solie and Geoffrey Salvatore)

Four truncated pyramidal units made from Bristol board make up Stalactites. (Harold-Sprague Solie and Geoffrey Salvatore)

Two students in the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning designed a textural, horizontal installation with complete transparency.

When Harold-Sprague Solie and Geoffrey Salvatore developed their decorative 12- by 5-foot ceiling installation Stalactites for a graduate course with Tsz Yan Ng at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, the goal was to produce a design and fabrication process with an accompanying detailed set of documents. “We wanted to take the focus away from just the object at the end and go through a set of drawings to help [the viewer] understand the installation and bring him or her into it,” said Salvatore. He expressed the desire for complete transparency, since architecture tends to conceal the labor details, and explained that this process helps expose some of the hidden logic of the project.

So while the drawings began as aids for viewing and understanding the project, they became useful as Solie and Salvatore went through the design process. “[As we worked] we’d have these drawing to fall back on; to rediscover ideas, to catch mistakes and reveal things we’d have missed,” Solie said.

The largest unit measures 12 inches on each side at a height of 9 3/4 inches, while the smallest measures 6 inches on each side at a height of 2 5/8 inches. (Harold-Sprague Solie and Geoffrey Salvatore)

The largest unit measures 12 inches on each side at a height of 9 3/4 inches, while the smallest measures 6 inches on each side at a height of 2 5/8 inches. (Harold-Sprague Solie and Geoffrey Salvatore)

  • Fabricators Harold-Sprague Solie, Geoffrey Salvatore
  • Architects Harold-Sprague Solie, Geoffrey Salvatore
  • Location Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Date of Completion November 2011
  • Material Bristol board, paint
  • Process Rhino, Illustrator

“It was important to work back and forth between the physical process and the [digital] drawing process,” Salvatore added. The overall project was modeled in Rhino, while the drawings were produced and tweaked in Adobe Illustrator.

The piece itself is composed of four truncated pyramidal units made from Bristol board, the largest of which measures 12 inches on each side at a height of 9 3/4 inches, while the smallest measures 6 inches on each side at a height of 2 5/8 inches. Each shape was drawn to include fastening tablature that eliminates fastening materials. “Each piece has a male and female tab and each tab on each side allows it to aggregate with other pieces,” Solie said. “They’re organized around the largest piece that has six connections, as opposed to three on the others, and are arranged in a way that supports a universal connector.”

Starting with the originating piece, Solie and Salvatore worked their way out from the center. “That allowed later orientation of individual pieces for the form we wanted,” Salvatore said. “We had seven of the big main pieces and the other pieces radiated out from that.”

Other than a deep blue paint to increase the contrast, no other materials were introduced. (Harold-Sprague Solie and Geoffrey Salvatore)

Other than a deep blue paint to emphasize contrast, no other materials were introduced. (Harold-Sprague Solie and Geoffrey Salvatore)

Part of the advantage of working with a firm paper like Bristol board was the flexibility it afforded for mock ups, of which there were plenty. “We went from fabrication to drawing, then back to the fabrication, back to drawing,” Solie said of the process. “There’s a logic to the aggregation to avoid dead ends. We’d mock up a set of 10 or 15 and once we’d hit a dead end we’d go back and solve the problem.” Each of the four patterns were laser-cut onto the Bristol paper, which maximized efficiency. In addition to reducing manufacturing waste, each element can be nested when unfolded.

Originally, the team experimented with Yuppo, a thin gauge plastic, but had to abandon the material because the tabbing was problematic and did not support their desire to refrain from introducing other materials. The paper’s lightweight made it easy to hang Stalactites 10 feet off the ground, though the designers predict alternative materials like light plastics or aluminum could be suitable.

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