2014 Digital Fabrication, Construction and Advanced Manufacturing

2014 Studio – Prototyping the Synthetic Canopy

Studio leaders Nicholas Williams and Jane Burry, support Daniel Prohasky
Monday 15th September – Friday 26th September (Barcelona)
Monday 29th September – Friday 31st October (Melbourne)



Since the turn of the millennium a renewed engagement with making and physical production has been taken up within architecture discourse. This can be seen as a direct result of nascent digital tools, especially increased access for designers to simulation and digital manufacturing technology. This is manifest in experimental fabrication approaches and new understandings of material. It has had a broad impact in academia with many international schools of architecture are entering domains previously foreign to design disciplines including robotics, computer science and material science. The last decade has also seen the emergence of new forms of practice and business models responding to these technologies. These range from companies offering services in building delivery, specialist modelling, programming and fabrication services, to design practices which seek to maintain more conventional architecture services, albeit with closer consider of fabrication processes and opportunities.

This MDIT studio will offer students an opportunity to engage in a design-led prototyping project for a full-scale installation. In doing so students will learn and utilise concepts and techniques that bridge design and fabrication, exploring opportunities for material and machining process to drive design, and for understanding an expanded field in which designers can operate.

Dermoid project: image concept: Mark Burry; scripting and modelling: Daniel Davis; render: James Loder

Core Project

This studio seeks to utilise and test concepts around responsive and kinetic architectures, introduced to students through the MDIT Responsive and Adaptive Environments studio. It will then extend these at a larger scale and with the demands of a commissioned and fabricated piece of architecture.

At the core of the studio is a brief to design and fabricate a series of canopy panels for a public structure in Melbourne. These panels will mediate light and provide shelter from sun and rain, responding kinetically to environment and crowds to provide an engaging architecture and a high performing space. The panels will be exposed to the environment and interactions with the public, demanding a high level of detailed resolution.

Component Systems

To meet this brief a system will be identified prior to the commencement of the studio. This system will respond to a number of requirements including specifics of basic spatial and performance requirements. It will also attempt to provide a platform from which the design of the structure can respond to broader social, cultural and physical context in which it is located.

The project will address a hierarchy of assemblies. Extending from the form of the pavilion, it will address a series of panels which are lightweight and attach to the broader existing structure. Each of these panels can be considered as a component, an assembly of a kit of common elements that make a prefabricated whole. As such they need to be self-supporting and it is expected that each panel will be comprised of a field of smaller elements. This includes the material parts, connections and actuation mechanisms which together provide the adaptable surface and enclosure of the canopy.


In working through such a system, the project explicitly seeks to create a series of related but unique elements which we might consider as a mass-customised product. Variation in geometry, material and performance will be generated to respond to local conditions within the structure.

The fabrication of this structure will require the development of a series of standardised processes and materials, flexible enough to provide for the desired variety of the design but precise enough to produce parts to within required tolerances and to perform the reliably for a period of the exhibition.