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Center for Design Research presents high-tech and lo-fab in Richmond

December 21, 2016

High-tech, lo-fab structure by Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech's high-tech, lo-fab structure at Architecture Exchange East in Richmond.

Some of the latest “lo-fab,” high-tech applied research from the Center for Design Research in Virginia Tech's School of Architecture + Design was on display recently at Architecture Exchange East, the statewide convention of the American Institute of Architects held in the Richmond.

The Center for Design Research student-faculty team presented an innovative grid structure combining local materials with high-tech digital design and fabrication techniques. The structure uses state-of the-art robotic fabrication, computationally driven manufacturing, and traditional woodworking craftsmanship to explore how advanced design and fabrication techniques can be applied to the design and construction process in resource-limited settings.

The display, a component of the Lo-Fab Pavilion deployed as part of the Design Biennial Boston, is the result of increasing collaboration between the CDR and the profession. It was funded by MASS Design Group with support from an Autodesk BUILD Grant.

Autodesk is a leading global corporation that designs software for architecture, engineering, and entertainment, in collaboration with MASS Design Group, a Boston and Kigali, Rwanda-based nonprofit design firm practicing in East Africa, Haiti, and the U.S.

Virginia Tech students produced all of the 3,000-plus components in the newly Developed Design Robotics Laboratory and were responsible for assembling similar structures in other locations, including Richmond, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, as part of an ongoing applied research project exploring emerging technologies for wood construction.

The collaboration is a central part of the CDR’s mission to design buildings and environments that improve human lives in resource-limited settings.

Working with industry partners, CDR faculty, and students in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ School of Architecture + Design help communities harness their local talents, labor, and resources to create sustainable structures that meet their needs and enhance their quality of life.

The lo-fab effort between MASS Design Group and the CDR continues in Africa. Assistant Professor of Architecture Nathan King, wood shop supervisor Mark Leach, and wood shop craftsman Jonathan Rugh traveled last summer to the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda, as a pilot program to develop a long-term student exchange.

The Virginia Tech team worked side by side with Rwandan students, craftsmen, and MASS Design Group to produce a series of furniture prototypes. The furniture pieces are now in production and in use by students in the new African Design Center, which welcomed its first cohort this fall.

The student team for the Richmond project included Edward Coe, a master’s student in architecture from Middlebury, Connecticut; Sarah Bush, a third-year architecture student from Penfield, New York; and Martin Angst, a graduate architecture student from Braunschweig, Germany. King and Professor Robert Dunay, director of the Center for Design Research, are the faculty leading the research project.

Two other CDR teams will travel to Africa in the new year to investigate potential projects in Uganda and Malawi. Teresa Hamm, a master’s student in architecture from Washington, D.C., will visit Uganda with wood shop supervisor Mark Leach to advance preliminary studies for a clinic.

King, Dunay, and Jack Davis, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, also plan to travel to Malawi in 2017 to discuss the design of a new library for Mzuzu University, which lost its library in a fire last year.

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