This afternoon I had a sort of open house thing at the college at which I’m going to grad school (UNC Charlotte). Basically it was a time to get some questions answered, tour the place, and hear a couple of presentations. The presentations were from SHoP Architects in New York City, and the guy mainly talked about some of the new things they were doing when dealing with delivery and client/architect partnerships. It was some really fascinating stuff, and gave me lots of new ideas.

What I really want to say something about, though, is the labs I’ll be working in. They’ve got a metal lab and a wood lab (which means I can finally bend plywood and maybe make some good furniture), and a lighting lab and a digital design lab.

The lighting lab is, well, a lab to test out light. Sunlight and all that. They’ve got a box that’s about…7x7x7 I’d guess, and it’s basically a big fake sky that you can put full-size models into and test out the relationship of the building to natural light at different times of the day, different positions, different seasons, etc. It’s set as an overcast sky and is calibrated so that the data taken from it can be put anywhere in the world, because the weather system requirements for an overcast sky are the same everywhere. Pretty cool stuff.

The digital design lab is what really got me though. They’ve got a bunch of computers hooked up to a router, a laser cutter (which can cut anything you put in it), and two 3-D printers. 3-D printers! Those things are like aliens for me: I’ve heard they exist and seen pictures but never seen one in person. One of the printers works with plastic, and basically melts plastic blocks into flowing plastic and then glues it all together in layers. They had a couple things they had made, including a working adjustable wrench. That they made in a 3-D printer. And it works as a tool. The other printer uses starch powder inside a standard HP laser printer cartridge and uses some kind of water-based liquid as an adhesive. The printer head just goes back and forth over the base for a few hours and then at the end you have whatever design you put into it, and they you strengthen it by coating it with some kind of glue. They had a couple of spiraling lattice pieces they had made. I mean, come on, 3-D printers!

I went through a different pair of pants each time I saw one of those four labs. Take that as you will.

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