written by:
April 25, 2012

Jenny Wu, a partner at Oyler Wu Collaborative, documents the process from design through fabrication of their latest installation, Screenplay, to be featured at the upcoming Dwell on Design 2012. Part 4: Building a Physical Model

Digital or analog? This has been a hotly debated issue in the architectural community for the past 15 years. Within our office, we find the discussion to be relatively unproductive given the clear, yet differing, advantages that both techniques offer. We feel that it is far more useful to embrace both processes as a way of dealing with the wide range of issues that we often encounter, particularly in realizing experimental work.

Here we are building the frame using polystyrene sticks.
Here we are building the frame using polystyrene sticks.
Courtesy of 
1 / 5
The physical model, like the final installation, is broken down into smaller sections with each section consists of four vertical units.
The physical model, like the final installation, is broken down into smaller sections with each section consists of four vertical units.
Courtesy of 
2 / 5
Here’s a close-up showing the frame being “pre-looped” with yarn.
Here’s a close-up showing the frame being “pre-looped” with yarn.
Courtesy of 
3 / 5
After it is pre-looped, a continuous piece of yarn runs from top to the bottom frame.
After it is pre-looped, a continuous piece of yarn runs from top to the bottom frame.
Courtesy of 
4 / 5
One vertical unit fully looped with yarn. There are 17 lines at every section of frame.
One vertical unit fully looped with yarn. There are 17 lines at every section of frame.
Courtesy of 
5 / 5
Here we are building the frame using polystyrene sticks.
Here we are building the frame using polystyrene sticks.

We began designing the project digitally, primarily because the digital model allowed us to work with complex three-dimensional geometry and to quickly work through many iterations and variations to come to the final design. Yet, from our experience, we’ve learned that while things tend to work out quite perfectly inside the frictionless, gravity-free digital screen, the transition of digital design work into physical form isn’t quite as smooth as you might imagine. It is often critical to build large-scale physical models to simulate the construction process and test material properties in order to troubleshoot any major design issues.

The physical model, like the final installation, is broken down into smaller sections with each section consists of four vertical units.
The physical model, like the final installation, is broken down into smaller sections with each section consists of four vertical units.
For the past week, we have been building a large-scale model out of polystyrene and yarn to simulate the steel frame and rope. The idea is to string one piece of yarn that runs from the top frame of each vertical unit to the bottom frame. Almost immediately, we encountered two major problems. We realized that as soon as we started stringing the yarn, the loop that holds the string to the frame would not hold due to the fact that the path of the loop does not always keep the yarn in tension. In fact, it would only stay in place when the frame is entirely filled up with yarn.

Here’s a close-up showing the frame being “pre-looped” with yarn.
Here’s a close-up showing the frame being “pre-looped” with yarn.
After it is pre-looped, a continuous piece of yarn runs from top to the bottom frame.
After it is pre-looped, a continuous piece of yarn runs from top to the bottom frame.
So as a solution (at least for the model), we decided to pre-loop one length of the frame first with yarn then run a continuous piece of yarn from the top to the bottom frame. We hope that for the actual installation, we will not have to pre-loop but, rather, use either a clamp or zip tie to temporarily hold it in place. The second problem is one that mainly exists in the model. Due to the size of the model, we have a hard time getting our fingers around the frame to put the yarn in. We had to use a combination of a sewing needle, which “sews” the yarn to the frame, and a handmade metal hook made out of wire to quickly loop the frames.

One vertical unit fully looped with yarn. There are 17 lines at every section of frame.
One vertical unit fully looped with yarn. There are 17 lines at every section of frame.
The model has been incredibly time consuming. At this pace, it could take nearly as much time as the full-scale installation! As our deadline is rapidly approaching, we’ve decided to overlap the modeling and the fabrication process, allowing the model to stay just one step ahead of the full scale design decisions. Next week we will begin building a platform/jig to facilitate the making of the steel frame.

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