Images and Text to Perforation

In the past few weeks we’ve been studying how to render 15′-0″ tall text in a perforated metal screen that’s held a few inches outboard of a metal panel facade. Simply cutting the letters out seems like a logical solution but just like a stencil, the islands within letters like P and Q need support. In our case that meant extra unsightly horizontal subgirts. To avoid this problem, I explored using finer perforations. To create the text and test its legibility I created a simple Grasshopper tool to convert images to polygonal perforations. This was only a preliminary test, so adjustable parameters are limited to grid spacing, polygon type, and polygon radius. The perforated and non-perforated areas can also be inverted.

Image Sampler Definition

The  resulting perforations are clearly legible:

G6 Example

The native interpolation within the image sampler component also does a good job of anti-aliasing the text:


Here’s the same definition used to apply square perf to a gray scale image:

Lincoln Example

Running Analysis in Grasshopper

For a few months I’ve been developing Grasshopper tools to visualize my running routes in three dimensions. In a previous post about running the Rattling Run Trail, I compared the topography of that run to one of my recent runs in Philly using two colored “ribbon” representations of each route. The results were enlightening (and show how few big hills there are in Philly) but I wanted a little bit more from my run data. Many sites like Map My Run and Strava generate topo maps with elevation and pace data as separate graphs below. For example, here’s the Strava output for my Rattling Run Trail run:


While useful, these graphics can be hard to interpret because they’re all separate. A flat map projection shows my course in horizontal space but there’s no easy way to see the course combined with elevation changes, nor can that all be easily related to local geography or landmarks. Quickly relating position, elevation, and pace is even trickier and requires looking at the map and graphs separately, then mentally synthesizing them.

In an effort to combine my route map with elevation and pace, I developed a tool that color codes the route ribbon based on my pace. Here’s the result:


Each vertical colored bar is centered on a GPS trackpoint then color coded based on my pace at that instant; the height of each bar represents elevation, exaggerated by a factor of 20 so the slopes are more apparent. My Garmin watch yields a lot of data for each run. For example this 20 mile route generated approximately 1600 data points, each with a time stamp, location, distance from the start point, and other data. Continue reading

Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Brown University


In the last 10 years Brown University and its neighbors, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Wheeler School, have all seen interesting work arrive on their campuses from the likes of Raphael Moneo, Anmahian Winton, and Kennedy & Violich. But on a recent trip to Brown the first building I sought out was the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, a 2011 project by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

IMG_0372 As they often do, DS+R playfully modifies the section of the building to create provocative interactions between spaces. Here, that effort is directed at increasing cross-pollination of ideas between the arts disciplines. The architects cut the building in half vertically, then translate one half of the building several feet up, allowing occupants of one level to peer into the stories above and below. This shearing of the mass makes for an interesting west elevation, although the connection between program blocks seems to be primarily visual; no verbal interaction occurs across the shear line. Like so many new buildings the Granoff Center seeks to promote collaboration, but it seems to prioritize visual connection over providing meeting space for face-to-face encounters.

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Analyzing Runs in 3D

I’ve been a runner for about 20 years. I’m addicted to its solitude and the energy it gives me, but in that time I’ve also become obsessed with all the data that can be extracted from a run. Every run brings questions: How long was it? Did my splits get faster or slower as I ran? Did I speed up on the downhills to make up for slowing down on the uphills? Fortunately there’s plenty of hardware and software available to record and track running data to answer these questions. Unfortunately, the output of these tools is not very visually satisfying.

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Reimagining the PMA

IMG_3801This summer I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art for “Making a Classic Modern,” their exhibition of Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Museum. I entered questioning the selection of Frank Gehry as the architect for a project that demands respect for an existing historical structure. I left feeling much more comfortable.

Completed in 1928, this neo-classical temple to art is a Philly icon. It owes this status not only to its physical position at the terminus of Ben Franklin Parkway, but also to its stairs and their memorable position in pop culture as the finish line of Rocky’s triumphant training run. It seems fitting that most of the attention paid to the new masterplan centered on possible changes to those steps.

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Questioning “Collision Spaces”


Singh Center for Nanotechnology, University of Pennsylvania

In workplace architecture, building owners and architects seem eager to attempt an act of social engineering. The modern emphasis on multi-disciplinary collaborative efforts in workplace culture, combined with a push for innovation, are driving building owners to push for more and more informal “collision space” where creative magic happens: people from different disciplines have chance encounters, creative sparks fly, and BOOM, we’ve got the next generation of solar panels, or the next Google, or better cancer medications. But is there anything more than anecdotal evidence that these spaces actually foster more collaboration, or are collision spaces just creating environments that feel nicer to work in? Would collaboration happen organically anyway, or are owners really getting return on their spatial investment?

This question was prompted by a visit to the new Singh Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania, a lab building in which spaces for collaboration are an integral part of the design. The building is wrapped in a winding three story, light filled atrium, culminating in a glassy meeting space dramatically cantilevered over a courtyard below. The atrium is lined with inviting orange tables, restaurant-style booths, and lounge chairs intended to allow the building’s users to mingle and gather. Although the spaces are beautiful and seem popular, accommodating “collisions” brings an environmental trade-off: the building has a tremendous amount of circulation space that’s difficult to heat and cool. The atrium is completely glazed on one side with a mostly southern exposure. Not every lab building needs a soaring atrium, but a strategy of additional breakout spaces deployed across all lab buildings could be a recipe for inefficiency. Continue reading

Glass: Vakko Head Office, Istanbul

Curving glass isn’t easy. While bending glass in one direction is common, double curvature in architectural glazing is more difficult and rare. Flat glass panes and polymer interlayers are heated then slumped into a form, which can be expensive and custom made. The slumping process itself requires multiple mockups and prototypes to produce a clear, consistent product. All this, combined with more complicated handling and storage, adds cost. As a result slumped glass is used sparingly and often for aesthetic effect only, which makes REX’s use of slumped glass at the Vakko Head Office exceptional. The architects deploy formed glass extensively not only for design but for performative reasons. Continue reading