Rhino to Reality
690 Folsom - Designing to Eight Significant Figures

Charles F. Bloszies
September 15, 2015

0         Opportunity
0.0         Embodied Aptitude
0.00         Regulation
$0.000         Finance
0.0000           Datum
0.00000          Fabrication
0.000000         Engineering
0.0000000         Assessment

Parametric modeling has allowed architects to create precise and complex geometric forms, however, harnessing of this virtual tool to produce built work has been rare to date. Translation of the cybernetic model into actual gravity resisting substance requires a combination of nuanced approaches to construction as well as reliance on traditional methods of project delivery. It begins with single digit concerns and then becomes rather complex.

0 Opportunity
If the client doesn’t order it, the architect can’t deliver it. Boston Properties has a portfolio of well-tailored buildings and rarely ventures into the avant-garde. Fortunately, on this site they requested an eye-popping design.

0.0 Embodied Aptitude
Architects in practice are often reluctant to adopt new approaches that may loosen their grasp on design control, especially if a new tool challenges an established office paradigm. Very few firm principals understand the capabilities of software like Rhino and Grasshopper, but younger designers have been weaned on these programs.

0.00 Regulation
The real world includes a myriad of stakeholders who have the ability to weaken or strengthen a design concept. A host of technical regulations must be satisfied. The regulatory and political environment in San Francisco is a bit of a paradox. America’s most socially liberal city is actually very conservative when it comes to buildings, plus from time to time, we have earthquakes.

$0.000 Finance
Unlike a painter, poet, or sculptor, an architect must have a client willing to foot the bill. As designs develop, cost estimates are made, and ideas are floated through the process of “value engineering”, which, in theory, has the potential to reduce the cost of construction without compromising the design. In practice, many value engineering ideas have the potential to dilute or wash away the design intent entirely. 690 Folsom survived this process pretty much unscathed.

0.0000 Datum
The tabula rasa. does not exist anymore in architecture – truly sustainable designs are built over previously developed sites in dense urban environments and often include retention of existing construction. 690 Folsom is an extreme make-over of a concrete building built in the 1920s. The structure was out-of-level and out-of-plumb – the datum was contorted, a fact that was carefully reckoned with in the design of the new elements.

0.00000 Fabrication
The screen was cut by robots using a data file we provided. Although the data file gave us complete design control, it came with responsibilities for fit and with performance liabilities that architects normally eschew. Working with the fabricator, we coordinated the design intent and shop floor constraints in a manner not traditionally practiced.

0.000000 Engineering
Thermal expansion, stress concentrations, vibrations, joint designs, adjustability, shoring, erection, coatings, material, seismic performance, galvanic action, plus a few unexpected site anomalies.

0.0000000 Assessment
When finished, we asked ourselves what did we learn, and did the details really work out? In architecture every building is a prototype, and we rarely have the opportunity to go back and correct unresolved issues. Parametric modeling is a powerful tool, but it does not do the thinking for us.

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