Material-based Design Computation

2010  Oxman, N. , PhD thesis, MIT

The institutionalized separation between form, structure and material, deeply embedded in modernist design theory, paralleled by a methodological partitioning between modeling, analysis and fabrication, resulted in geometric-driven form generation. Such prioritization of form over material was carried into the development and design logic of CAD. Today, under the imperatives and growing recognition of the failures and environmental liabilities of this approach, modern design culture is experiencing a shift to material aware design. Inspired by Nature's strategies where form generation is driven by maximal performance with minimal resources through local material property variation, the research reviews, proposes and develops models and processes for a material-based approach in computationally enabled form-generation. Material-based Design Computation is developed and proposed as a set of computational strategies supporting the integration of form, material and structure by incorporating physical form-finding strategies with digital analysis and fabrication. In this approach, material precedes shape, and it is the structuring of material properties as a function of structural and environmental performance that generates design form. The thesis proposes a unique approach to computationally-enabled form-finding procedures, and experimentally investigates how such processes contribute to novel ways of creating, distributing and depositing material forms. Variable Property Design is investigated as a theoretical and technical framework by which to model, analyze and fabricate objects with graduated properties designed to correspond to multiple and continuously varied functional constraints. The following methods were developed as the enabling mechanisms of Material Computation: Tiling Behavior & Digital Anisotropy, Finite Element Synthesis, and Material Pixels. In order to implement this approach as a fabrication process, a novel fabrication technology, termed Variable Property Rapid Prototyping has been developed, designed and patented. Among the potential contributions is the achievement of a high degree of customization through material heterogeneity as compared to conventional design of components and assemblies. Experimental designs employing suggested theoretical and technical frameworks, methods and techniques are presented, discussed and demonstrated. They support product customization, rapid augmentation and variable property fabrication. Developed as approximations of natural formation processes, these design experiments demonstrate the contribution and the potential future of a new design and research field.

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