Thursday, March 20 Perloff Hall
Exercises in Plasticity: Retooling the Mold, Arch 289 Technology Seminar
Instructors: Heather Roberge and Noa P. Kaplan

With the widespread availability of numerically controlled manufacture, design at all scales can explore the use of countless variable parts to assemble novel objects and spaces. Why then do these experiments rarely make it to market? Despite claims to the contrary, these experiments require abundant capital in the form of expenditures of design labor, manufacturing labor, and discarded tooling. As a result, design that embraces these technologies in experimental ways is limited in scope. It takes the form of installations, limited edition products, or well financed design by established designers, artists and architects. This work, while influential to each discipline, has a limited impact on higher volume design production. In part, this is because design requiring low to medium volume production requires an intimate understanding of manufacturing parameters including an area central to this course, tooling. Tooling refers to the molds used to produce copies of components or objects.  Mold making and casting play a key role in the production of objects. Despite the promise of rapid prototyping technologies, molding continues to be the fastest, most precise way of generating three-dimensional copies. In addition to the known advantages of serial production, such as the interchangeability of standardized parts and the durability of continuous surfaces, there are many untested and unrealized possibilities.

In order for designers to effectively manage the flow of capital and material (and its social and environmental effects,) an understanding of tooling is an invaluable key to unlocking the potential of mass manufacture and customization to transform the objects and spaces around us. Toward this end, the subject of this fabrication seminar is responsive tooling and its application to a design problem, a vessel for bulk water storage. The design problem is a test bed for investigating variable mold making. A mold is defined as a fixed or restrictive pattern or form, but historically, the mold has been strongly associated with the first descriptor: the rigid, unchanging container. Responsive tooling exploits the potential of the restrictive, yet variable dimension of the mold.
In mold making, a liquid suspension is poured into a container and undergoes a chemical reaction. Typically, the container determines the form of the resulting solid. There is opportunity, however, for the liquid suspension and the container to inform one another, a collaboration of skin and substance. Through an engagement with interlocking tessellations, inflatable bladders, and flexible materials, variable molding systems have a procedural relationship to the fluids that they will eventually hold.

End Products:
Students will apply research from a range of processes in order to engage responsive tooling and its impact on design components and their subsequent copies. Vessel prototypes will be produced to test tooling strategies and their subsequent influence on design copies. The function of the vessel and its testing will also allow students to investigate the role of fluid dynamics in contemporary design. Final vessel prototypes will be produced with slipcasting. Molds will be produced in silicone, mdf and ultimately plaster.
Our course has three projected end products: 1) artifacts documenting experiments in designing controlled variability in mold making, 2) an outdoor installation of water catchment vessels, 3) a presentation of course research findings and documentation of its production processes and vessels.
This course received support from the UCLA SOAA Arts Initiative Grant.