Written by on January 25, 2013

An interview with Clare Olsen (part two)

This is the second installment of an email interview between Renee Jain, a 5th year Cal Poly architecture student who is working on her thesis, and Clare Olsen, an assistant professor in architecture, who is working on a winter quarter installation in Kennedy Library. You can read the first part of their interview in an earlier post, which includes a short video on how Clare is approaching color in this sculpture.

RJ: For the fabrication, why are you using Computer Numerically Controlled machines?

CO: Throughout my education and career as an architecture professor, I’ve been drawn to digital fabrication machines for their ability to create highly precise parts that would otherwise be difficult or laborious to create if made by hand. At the same time, I recognize that in any type of fabrication process requires a great deal of craft—both machine craft and handwork. Certain aspects of the fabrication process are made easier by machines, but other parts of the process create challenges.

RJ: Every time I build a model, I run into all sorts of challenges. What kind of challenges does this project have?

CO: For example, because I’m using a material and a form that really must be cut on a machine and I don’t have access to that machine all the time, I’ve been doing the majority of the formal and assembly tests by laser cutting paper, which has the elastic qualities, but not the stiffness (obviously) of metal. Ideally, I’d develop an intimate knowledge with the plasma machine, like one would if using hand tools. This is why I’ve developed a partnership with Dr. Zohns who has that knowledge and will be able to help me to trouble shoot issues if they arise. So far, the tests have gone well though, so I’m hopeful that the fabrication process will be a smooth one.

RJ: How are you connecting to the concrete walls in the library?

CO: Actually, the walls in this part of the stairwell are stud-framed.  I went through with a stud finder and located them and I’ve essentially used this embedded structure as “attractor points” in the model so that the modules’ connector wall connection tabs align with the studs.  I’m sure there will be some points where we miss the studs, but that’s okay because we can use butterfly bolts plus each prefabricated module cluster will have at least two connections directly to studs. Since the modules are so light weight, this will be no problem.

RJ: Is every diamond piece unique?

CO: Each diamond module employs the same methodology of construction (two halves folded up and bolted together) and there are some duplicates. Since we are using the plasma cutter, every piece could essentially be unique, but this would add time to the file preparation. Plus, since I’ve been working with mirroring (in every respect), the large-scale formal reflection that’s happening occurs at the corner line where the cluster on the south wall is essentially the same as the cluster on the east wall, but rotated.

RJ: When I first used the laser cutter to build a model, my classmates and I made lots of mistakes. I cut out a piece of chipboard intending for it to roll up into a round cylinder shape, but it came out square because I didn’t score it enough times. What’s the silliest mistake you’ve made using digital fabrication?

CO: There are no silly mistakes. In order to make things well, no matter what tool you’re using, the process, at least initially, is not always smooth and that’s okay. There are some aspects of fabrication machines that are really straight forward, and other aspects that take time to figure out and the best way to learn is to just do it. Make things and learn by doing.

RJ: You’ve talked about the material selection. What are you thinking about in terms of color?

CO: I was planning to embed a small amount of colored acrylic within some of the modules, which would have reflected light well, but the campus fire code doesn’t allow it. So the coloration will be achieved through lighting. I’m excited about it, but also nervous, because it’s very difficult to test and predict.

Renderings by Clare Olsen. Stay tuned for more on this upcoming installation!

Read more on CAED, clare olsen, digital fabrication, exhibit, faculty, installation, kennedy library, libraries, renee jain, and scholarship.

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