Project #2: Controlled Variation

Review: Thursday, March 28
[download PDF]
[precedent images]

This project will continue our investigations of the relationship of standardization and variation through a rigorous process of designing mold systems that produce variable cast components. In teams, students will develop dynamic and/or reconfigurable molds that produce cast modules that vary yet are capable of tiling seamlessly. The objectives of the project are to (1) become familiar and comfortable with casting methodologies, (2) test how parametric software can be used to design and fabricate molds / mold components, and (3) develop compelling models for the mass production of variable components.

The project will introduce intensive and iterative processes of plaster casting into the studio workflow. Please be sure to follow all of the shop’s rules and protocols for casting: all mixing & pouring must be done outside (on the dirt, not the sidewalk); no plaster can be poured down any drains inside the building; all shop materials must be thoroughly washed as soon as possible after mixing/casting.

Keep in mind that casting processes offer several important design opportunities that relate to the themes of this class:

  • Casting processes by definition speak to notions of standardization and mass production, with the implication that a single mold can produce a large number of cast components. We are interested in discovering opportunities within this process to insert change and variation in a controlled way.
  • Casting a liquid material in a solid mold presents many opportunities for translating information (literally) from one material to another.
  • As it involves fluid material that changes state over a period of time, casting is an inherently unpredictable process. We are interested in how this unpredictability, response to gravity, or response to flexible mterials can be introduced in a controlled manner.

Part A: Analog (due Tues. 3/5)

Students will be working teams for this project. The first part of the project will involve designing individual mold systems that tile with those of all members of the team. Starting with insulation foam and a blade and/or hot wire cutter, begin to design a mold that produces a 10”x10” cast module. Things to consider:

  • As a group, establish a tiling logic and constraints that will remain standard/consistent from one module to the next. 
  • How can the mold be fabricated of components that are reconfigurable, yet preserve the cast module’s ability to tile?
  • How can other materials (fabric? latex?) be introduced into the mold to incorporate notions of controlled unpredictability?

Part B: Digital Translation

Learning from the initial explorations, each team will decide on a strategy to pursue for the second set of prototypes. We will transition to Grasshopper to explore ways that the molds can be designed parametrically and fabricated using CNC equipment.


  • Final prototypes. Each team should have 8-10 modules demonstrating the maximal range of variability across the field.
  • Present earlier analog studies and process work. Organize and curate to be as clear as possible about the logic of your system and the development of your process.
  • Diagram or Catalog (using Adobe Illustrator) of the rules that govern your tiling system. Print on 11×17 for the review.
  • Compress the following items in a ZIP file and email/Dropbox to instructor after review: PDF of Illustrator diagram, Grasshopper definition file, any associated Rhino file, digital photographs of physical models.

Evaluation Criteria:

  • Projects should demonstrate an ability to work seamlessly between 2D and 3D, in both digital and physical realms.
  • Projects should demonstrate an understanding of how to use Grasshopper to drive variable behaviors in the system.
  • Projects should demonstrate successful use of CNC equipment in the fabrication of mold components.
  • Projects should demonstrate rigorous and organized documentation of process work.

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