It is always a bit of a challenge to persuade a client to invest in a full scale mockup. It seems to be a redundant and exuberant expense but sometimes it is indispensable part of the design process and in the end could actually accelerate the development process, and save the client money. Drawings and renderings in the 2D plane are very seductive but they do not have within them the forces of gravity nor embody the intrinsic structural qualities of the material. Not even the most realistic rendering could convey the real impact on the senses the built environment has. They do not convey the amount of skill and hard labor it takes to realize a built project, nor the cost.
In this digital age, we are bombarded by excessive amounts of images: highly stylized images and images completely severed from their context, images without stories. We judge them purely on the basis of instant visual appeal and style. Furthermore, incredible advances in modeling software and rendering engines make even the most ridiculous and out-of-touch-with-reality type designs, look hyper real. And if it looks real, it must feasible, right? So wrong. Prototyping is the best way to focus and get deep into a design problem.
For both the "Contemplation" pavilion (built in Arles, France) and "The Majlis" pavilion (to be assembled this year at the Biennale of Venice in Italy), we coordinated the production of full scale mockups with local Colombian craftsmen so that we could study the design, assembly and production process, and most importantly have a real common ground on which we can have productive conversations with the client, their engineer as well as local builder.
FIRST MOCKUP & PROOF OF CONCEPT:
For the Caravane Village project we proposed to work with an alternative form of bamboo: laminated bamboo straps 5cm wide, and up to 6m long (we could go up to 9m, but were limited by the shipping container size). This was an exciting design challenge due to the technical novelty of this structural system and a lot of invention had to be done. There was a lot of theoretical work done already in developing the designs in 3D technical models and detail drawings, but we were really hungry to test the idea in reality. Gigagrass team decided to allocate some of the design fees to make a full scale mock up as a proof of concept, a test for ourselves. We decided to prototype The Majlis structure. It was a crude version, built using low grade bamboo harvested from the garden outside the workshop and scrap metal. But it answered a lot of urgent questions we had about the structure. How much can the bamboo strap bend before it buckles? How do we cut and prepare the straps? How do we join them together in a larger assembly? How much weight can it hold? It was mostly a success in that it turned out so beautiful that we decided not to scrap it (in fact we will be assembling it as our new studio space), but it was not an export-ready version to be used publicly or by the client, Anyways that was not the purpose: the purpose was to learn.
The Caravane Foundation commissioned us to do a second more refined iteration (the one eventually sent to Italy for the Venice Biennale) utilizing high quality metals (stainless steel), reforested and certified wood beams for the platform, and certified bamboo approved for exportation. We improved all the elements and further simplified some joinery. We also improved the technique to laminate and curve the elliptical beams. Everything was much more precise.
We had some unforeseen limitations of work space, so we responded by making the process of production even more efficient. The structure was lifted onto steel pipes and moved around, rotating and shuffling around, playing with every centimeter of space, as it was being built. It was an ironic, and kind of funny, test of our hypothesis that this is a nomadic structure. Well, it certainly did move.