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The Making of Screenplay: Part 6

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 6:  The Physical Work Begins…

At this stage of the process, those around me often say that this isn’t the way typical architects produce work. For many years, my parents wondered why someone with Columbia and Harvard degrees would choose to spend a large portion of my summer months braving the grueling sun and performing serious manual labor. “Shouldn’t you have people for that?” they would ask.

We lay out steel tubes on the platform based on the fabrication drawings, and then mark the angle of the cut on the steel tubes.
We lay out steel tubes on the platform based on the fabrication drawings, and then mark the angle of the cut on the steel tubes.

We have now completed seven built projects in the six years our office has existed largely because we’ve taken it upon ourselves to make projects happen when no one else would. This is not to say that we are only doing it in order to realize our work—we use the process to better inform and develop our designs. I think the reward of understanding how to work with a material and, in turn, innovate through this intimate knowledge of a process, is what allows our practice to remain experimental. With each project, it is our direct responsibility to consider the optimal way to build the work, to simplify the process, and to create efficient fabrication logics—as opposed to simply passing it off on a contractor. We believe that this experience brings with it a more comprehensive knowledge that ultimately better informs those future projects that we don’t have a direct hand in constructing.

After measuring, our staff cut the ends of the steel tubes to the correct angle.
After measuring, our staff cut the ends of the steel tubes to the correct angle.
Once all the pieces are cut correctly and laid out on the grid, they are ready to be welded.
Once all the pieces are cut correctly and laid out on the grid, they are ready to be welded.

For this project, the key strategy for accuracy and efficiency involves the building of steel “profiles.” These “profiles” refer to the series of repetitive uprights that occur every fourteen inches. Although they are built flat, the “profiles” contain the majority of the information necessary for establishing the overall geometry. We begin by cutting 1/2-inch steel square tubes into smaller sections and laying them out on the grid. With our fabrication drawings on the side, it is very clear to our crew how to place the steel tubes on the grid. We then measure and cut the ends of the tubes to the exact angle of the intersection and tape the tubes onto the platform. This allows my partner/master welder, Dwayne, to forge all of the pieces together. The final step in the making of the profiles is to grind down the welds to create a smooth finish. With everything done on the platform, we were able to make flat and planar profiles that are dimensionally accurate. While the process seems relatively straight forward, the complexity of the profiles makes the fabrication process long and physically demanding. We typically work 11 hours per day, and without true commitment from our staff, we would never be able to pull this off.

Dwayne Oyler, partner of Oyler Wu Collaborative, welds all the pieces right on the platform.
Dwayne Oyler, partner of Oyler Wu Collaborative, welds all the pieces right on the platform.
We then grind the welds smooth with the angle grinder.
We then grind the welds smooth with the angle grinder.

I do want to say a few words about our staff. All of our staff and interns are either students or former students at Southern California Institute of Architecture (Sci-Arc). We are able to bring on board talented and enthusiastic young architects who share with us the love for architecture and bring their passion to work every day. We would not be able to do all of the things that we do without their efforts and dedication.

More grinding.
More grinding.
We check off the pieces that we have fabricated on the master drawing.
We check off the pieces that we have fabricated on the master drawing.

Next week we will begin to three-dimensionalize the work by erecting the profiles vertically and begin to fabricate the steel pieces that connect one profile to another.

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