Trans-Form-ers: Juxtapose

PROJECT NAME: Trans-Form-ers
DESIGN TYPE: Architecture
BUILDING TYPE: Mobile Architecture
PROJECT DETAILS: Design Studio 3B 2009
PROJECT LOCATION: Shed 12, Auckland, New Zealand
PROJECT TUTORS: Anna Tong & Richard Archbold
BRIEF: Taken from the competition blog
"TRANS-FORM-ERS, mobile architectures between interior and exterior, Auckland Architecture Week 09 competition.

Movement and migration are pressing themes of contemporary life. Whether driven by political and economic necessity or resulting from a surplus of leisure time, people are more globally mobile than ever before. How might design, architecture and art respond to this relentless fluidity of people, capital, data, ideas and commodity goods? As the global financial crisis of late 2008 unfolds this competition might address the implications for contemporary mobility.

TRANS-FORM-ERS invites students to fabricate “mobile architectures”. These will take part in a convoy that will move through Auckland city, creating a public spectacle and rousing curiosity. On arrival at the Architecture Week venue, Shed 12, your project will undergo transformation, revealing an interior, to be exhibited and experienced as part of the Architecture Week Pecha Kucha evening.

The “mobile architecture” projects in this competition will examine the relationship between exterior and interior through transformative actions. The provocative potential of your project may recall a state of flux, even limbo, the contemporary condition for many of the globe’s inhabitants. Your proposal may celebrate individuality, public expression and diversity in the manner of a masquerade. And, as with the masquerade, deception and surprise can be strategic provocations. They goad responses by promoting the unexpected and unpredictable. Provocations can disturb or confound. Sometimes they are simply absurd."

This project begun with 40 students from Unitec's school of Architecture and School of Design individually participating in the competition, they presented their ideas in a critique to fellow students and tutors, whom voted for their top ten favorite projects.
Juxtapose (formerly known as C.L.S) was selected by the majority as one of the ten projects out of fourty to continue through to the second stage, the remaining students then selected which project they desired to work on. The Juxtapose team consists of Jade Doel as Project Manager with Emily Kian, Steven Sun, Harley Pickery and Sheena Lugod as Project Assistants.

By looking at things in nature, the project was able to be developed using existing forms of transformation for inspiration.
A shellfish was selected as the source of inspiration, with it's transforming quality being it's closed and open states.
This approach facilitated a robust design stage where the flesh (fabric) of the shellfish was stretched between the shells (panels) internal opposing faces. A series of concept models explored this relationship.

Following the concept model stage, a 1:5 model was made using actual materials that could possibly be used to create the final structure. This model opened up the opportunity to play with the surface of the panels as well as the invention of a crude structural system. It was the first model to experiment with the incorporation of lighting within the project and also enabled the evolution of the fabric and it's connection to the panels.

After the 1:5 model was complete, a 1:2 model was created to continue the development process.
Creating the 1:2 model proved to be a very valuable step for investigating the structural system and the merging of the fabric to the panels. By working at a larger scale, the design was able to move forward with more detail and truth. Some issues began to surface in the translating of the scale and this allowed design solutions to take place in order to resolve problems, but most of the original ideas were reinforced.
Once alterations were made and proved successful at the 1:2 scale, the 1:1 structure could commence.

The project begun by looking closely at the transforming aspect of the brief; it had to be a mobile piece of architecture that could be compact during the convoy and at its destination open up in to an inhabitable, contemporary structure, blurred between art and architecture.

The project was always expected to have a decent level of detail and finish, but as the project begun to evolve the lengths to which it could extend seemed never ending. It was as though, if given the time, it could have become a full-time project for many months.
Due to time constraints there had to (unfortunately) be a limit to what could be explored.

Following is a step by step insight in to the creation of the the 1:1 structure, including ideas that if given the time may have been investigated.

Plywood has a property that is unique to its self; it is made of several thin layers of timber laminated together that can be interacted with by methods of penetrating and grading the layers to reveal the strata.
Plywood was chosen for this ability as well as it's weight to size to rigidity ratio.
The eight sheets of plywood were generously supplied by Plytech in Auckland at a heavily discounted rate. The quality of the material was exceptional and was recommended perfectly by Plytech as this particular type of ply was created with the layers of timber laminated with a dark coloured glue, which accentuated the expression of the strata.

Maintaining a high level of craftsmanship was vital to the success of this project. A decent portion of the project time was invested in getting a finish on the plywood that even a fine furniture maker would be proud of. The challenge with plywood was when using the material in a fashion that it was least comfortable with, such as carving.

The construction of the 1:1 structure started with the laminating of the ply sheets to create the two panels. The first design solution was to fabricate 2200x2200mm sheets of Laminated Plywood, as they don't exist in such dimensions. Two 2400x1200x12mm sheets of ply were laid side by side with a generous layer of PVA glue spread across the surface, then two more panels were rotated 90 degrees to the first two sheets and placed on top of the glue.
With added weight and 48 hours, the panels were firmly formed in to 2400x2400x24mm sheets that were refined down to the required 2200x2200x24mm Panels.

The apertures from which the fabric emerges have become more organic in form compared to the perfect circles cut out in the 1:2 model. They also vary in size, so to present a more unique design, as precise repetition would render the project manufactured.
Each of the two panels have four unique apertures that vary in form and size, which were created by investigating a desired form for the fabric to take on. This ideal form then determined the placement and figure of the apertures and the relationships between them and the opposing faces. A slight grading on the lip of the apertures has revealed the strata of the laminated ply and has been done so in a manner to indicate and express the directional stresses caused by the fabric in tension.

Perforations in the surface of the lower panel continued with the mapping of small holes in the form of a 100x100mm grid that were drilled using three different drill bit diameters. The size of the drilled holes were determined by the proximity of the pores to the apertures; the closer they were to the aperture the larger the pore.
Once the holes were driller, they became the middle of the pore which was created by carving into the ply with chisels, leaving a porous effect across the surface. The dimples depth and width was a response to the dimensions of the drilled holes; the larger the diameter of the hole the deeper and wider the dimple. The rasping, chiseling and sanding of the apertures and pores were all done by hand to heighten the projects level of craftsmanship and character.

The influence behind the pores was taken from a common shellfish found on New Zealand's shallow coastal waters, the Paua (Abalone), which has a row of respiratory pores along the ridge of its shell. In a similar way, the pores on Juxtapose were designed to facilitate the ventilation of the plinth which conceals the lighting but they also serve as a second function; to encourage tactile interaction with the panels.

One of the projects great sponsors was Wattyl Paints, whom provided the gloss varnish for the ply at a 100% discount. Three layers were applied with light sanding between each application to get a high gloss finish. This gives the panels a wet look which reflects light and shadow in a fluid fashion.

The transforming action of Juxtapose is going from a closed state to an open state. Multiple methods of this transition were examined through model making with the chosen mechanics concentrating on simplicity, revealing and functionality. The outcome was an unwinding action that was simple in motion yet intriguing in its metamorphosis.
The basic idea was to have the two panels connected via eight, hollow, aluminum tubes of a similar length to the panels in each of the corners, which acted as diagonal struts, more than perpendicular columns once the panels were separated. By doing this the panels would become rotated 45 degrees in relation to one another causing the overall form to be less box-like and more aesthetically dynamic and structurally sound.
Aluminium was the chosen material for the struts as its weight to strength ratio was optimal in making the project light yet sturdy and safe. Fletcher Aluminum was generous enough to fully back Juxtapose with complete sponsorship and were able to fabricate 16 metres of aluminum tubing at no cost.

The connection between the tubes and the panels are made via a form of universal-joint.
During the development of the 1:2 model, exploration in to the design of the joint found that a suitable substitute for the expensive universal-joint could be found in castors. Small castors were used in the construction of the 1:2 model, which proved to allow the range of motion needed as well as delivering on strength and being far more affordable compared to actual universal-joints.
Because castors are made in a range of sizes, the 1:1 structure simply translated the scale of the castors in the 1:2 model to larger versions.

If given more time, exploration in to telescopic struts may have pushed the dynamics of the form and extended its transforming abilities.

The prerequisites for the design of the plinth was that it had to be dismantled and assembled without the use of tools and could be done so in little time and with ease.

The designing of the plinth became a project unto its self as without a substantially designed plinth, the project had nothing to stand on, literally.
Apart from the prerequisites, it ideally had to be fairly flat when dismantled for ease of storage and transporting, when assembled it had to be able to support the entire structure above it, conceal the lighting as well as look good yet be subliminal. To make it subliminal, the plinth was designed to be inset by 400mm around the circumference of the bottom panel and painted matte black.

The result was a plinth constructed from six pre-fabricated components that were locked together by hand-tightening four bolts, which combined created a timber-framed box that stood 400mm in height with two interlocking diagonal support panels across the center. The ends of the interlocking panels extend beyond the corners of the timber-framed box to support the cantilever of the bottom panel and also transfer the forces of the struts in to the ground.

Lighting was one of the key features of Juxtapose, it had the responsibility of breathing life in to the entire project. It had to feel as though it was integrated within the design and not just an after thought or superficial add-on. To do this correctly the actual lights themselves had to feel as if they were specially manufactured for Juxtapose and with professional help from one of the projects sponsors, Echo Electronics, the perfect light was found.
Four small Halogen bulbs were attached to the interlocking panels via specifically made light fittings that were designed and built to hold the bulbs in the correct position.
The colour of the light which the bulbs produced were reflective of the iridescent colours found on the inside of many sea shells called the nacre (Mother of Pearl), which display a mixture of blues, greens, purples and pinks.

If given more time, investigations in to lights which pulsed may have been a nice addition as they could really make the fabric look as though it was breathing. It might have also been interesting to incorporate wind generating fans within the plinth so that the air movement would animate the fabric and add another layer of visual and tactile interaction.

When looking for the ideal material to represent the flesh of the shellfish, lycra was selected for its great stretching properties and durability. The colour of the lycra is white so that it could become a canvas for the character in the lighting to be exhibited upon and to enhance the light and fluid qualities that the fabric had to portray.

It was important for the fabric to look as though it was flowing out of the apertures, like water. To do this a variety of attaching methods were explored where there would be no visible connection between the fabric and the panels. The solution was to attach the fabric to hoops which would fit through the apertures from the inside and sit on the outside of the panels where they can not be seen and be held in place by the fabric in tension.

Lengths of lycra were sewn into a 4500x4500mm single piece of fabric that went through a process of attaching and detaching from the apertures, this was a very difficult and timely process but was necessary in locating where the holes will be cut out of the fabric and to ensure the fabric will be taut. Between the cutting of each hole a wire hoop was tacked multiple times to the rim of the hole in the fabric by hand and then the lycra was hand sewn around the hoop to ensure it would hold while in tension.

Eight wire hoops were made in the same shape as the apertures but made slightly larger so that once they were in place they couldn't be pulled through the apertures. Once all eight hoops were sewn in to the fabric they were pushed through the corresponding apertures and the marking of the excess fabric was able to take place.
Again the fabric had to be attached and detached so the excess could be cut away and re-sewn to allow the desired shape to take form and maintain the tension across the fabric.
After many hours of trimming and refining, the outcome was very successful and the relationship between the fabric and apertures worked better than expected.



  1. Your blog is fantastic and you have done grate, just the way I was expecting. Congratulations on another successful design. Emily Kian

  2. Hi Jade, nice to meet you today. Cool design and nice photos! Bravo!