written by:
May 3, 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 5: Designing the Tools.

How to start? At the beginning of every construction project, I always feel a sense of anxiety about the road ahead, especially in terms of the complexity of the fabrication, the workload, and, nearly always, the insanely tight schedule. Fortunately, this is the very moment that my partner, Dwayne Oyler, really excels. I often marvel at the fact that he can conceptualize every step of the build so well that he is able to troubleshoot the problems in advance, build the necessary tools or jigs to speed up fabrication, and is able to turn a simple utilitarian object into a design element. Given the unique and varying nature of our work, the construction process becomes its own kind of design project, with each assignment bringing a new set of geometric problems, connection issues, and material challenges.

A little fun with orange paint.
A little fun with orange paint.
Courtesy of 
1 / 7
Platform is being framed out in 2' x 6' wood studs.
Platform is being framed out in 2' x 6' wood studs.
Courtesy of 
2 / 7
Leveling the wood framing.
Leveling the wood framing.
Courtesy of 
3 / 7
Painting the base coat bright orange.
Painting the base coat bright orange.
Courtesy of 
4 / 7
Taping the grid on the platform then painting the platform light grey.
Taping the grid on the platform then painting the platform light grey.
Courtesy of 
5 / 7
The tape is removed to reveal the orange grid.
The tape is removed to reveal the orange grid.
Courtesy of 
6 / 7
Fabrication drawings showing the exact shape of each profile and how it sits on the grid.  There are 25 profiles in total.
Fabrication drawings showing the exact shape of each profile and how it sits on the grid. There are 25 profiles in total.
7 / 7
A little fun with orange paint.
A little fun with orange paint.

For this project, we know that we have to build twenty-five custom-steel “profiles”, with each piece being slightly different due to the variations that we are trying to achieve in the elevation and section of the project. There are several major challenges in building the steel frame profiles. First: How do we build each steel profiles so that they are completely flat and planar? Second: How do we cut every angle of the steel quickly and accurately without using a protractor to measure the angle of each cut every time? While simple in concept, the realities of achieving this in three-dimensional space are easier said than done. Our solution is quite simple—we decided to build absolutely as much as possible on a flat surface. So, we built a platform.

Platform is being framed out in 2' x 6' wood studs.
Platform is being framed out in 2' x 6' wood studs.

The platform is not only our workspace, it is also our leveled surface, measuring and alignment tool, cutting mat, elevated shelter to store steel pieces below, and a colorful addition to our office backyard. The platform is built of simple 2' x 6' wood studs and plywood sheathing. We leveled the platform so that we have a large, flat surface to cut and weld on. If you start with a small, uneven surface, you are making the job exponentially more difficult, especially when you have a team of people working on it. For the graphics on the platform, we painted a grid system on top of the platform to facilitate the aligning, cutting and welding process. Since we had designed the intersection of each steel piece to align with a grid point, we can quickly layout the steel tubes on the grid, marking where their intersections occur, and cutting precisely to the correct angles.

Leveling the wood framing.
Leveling the wood framing.
Painting the base coat bright orange.
Painting the base coat bright orange.
Taping the grid on the platform then painting the platform light grey.
Taping the grid on the platform then painting the platform light grey.

One thing to note is that simultaneous to the building of the platform, our staff is outputting steel profiles from our digital model into 2D fabrication drawings so that once we are in the field it is clear how each steel frame sits on the grid. Concurrently, we are also checking each profile with the ongoing physical model to ensure that we have allowed enough space in all areas of the steel to allow the rope to pass through. While we have carefully built into this process feedback loops to ensure the least amount of errors, we do expect to rework some of the steel pieces once we start stringing the rope on the frame.

The tape is removed to reveal the orange grid.
The tape is removed to reveal the orange grid.
Fabrication drawings showing the exact shape of each profile and how it sits on the grid.  There are 25 profiles in total.
Fabrication drawings showing the exact shape of each profile and how it sits on the grid. There are 25 profiles in total.

Next week we start building the steel profiles, and we’ll see how well our platform actually serves its purpose!

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