Jury prize

Fabricwood: Xtra Herman Miller, Singapore

Designed by: Produce Workshop
For client: Xtra Designs Pte Ltd Floor area: 842.00 M² Year of completion: 2016
Awarded: Best Use of Material Jury

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© Edward Hendricks

About the Project

The Herman Miller shop-in-shop located at XTRA’s new premises in Marina Square is a 20-m-long by 7-m-wide space with a lofty headroom of 8 metres. Near the entrance however, the headroom dips to a low 3 metres. The structure is imagined as a sail-like continuous plywood surface stretched across the entire site, referencing the earlier minimal surface soap film experiments of Frei Otto.

Reminded of Herman Miller’s attempt to ‘mould’ an elastic mesh to the human form, we looked to the traditional tailoring technique that shapes fabric to the body – the use of ‘darts’ – which is a method of material addition and subtraction. We wanted to test the possibility of shaping large, full-sized pieces of plywood using darts, simply by removing material and closing up the slits.

The new Herman Miller shop-in-shop is a fabric-like plywood surface that appears to be casually pulled across the entire 8-metre volume. The rippling on the surface increased the ‘softness’ the plywood making it appear to be stagnant in the wind. The circular cut-outs ensure stability of the surface, along with cable ties and rivets, which are integral to this material system expressing its intuitive mechanical workings. The overall ambience is one akin to a bazaar where simple tent canopies are pulled across the street. Alongside the Herman Miller structure, the design for the rest of space in XTRA followed the idea of pop-up stores in a bazaar creating a more approachable and casual atmosphere.

What’s unique about it

The Fabricwood structure continues to push the boundaries of plywood construction. The aim is to develop a new material system and technique that allows the free-form shaping of plywood that is intuitive and simple. The pioneering technique of tailoring plywood also allowed us to form a larger surface with drastically fewer modules. The entire structure consists of only 280 flat patterns that could fit into standardized plywood panels. The material chosen is a 1.8-mm-thick, Oberflex sycamore 3-ply panel, CNC-milled at Produce.Workshop.
Ease of construction is also paramount. Through multiple mock-ups, cable ties were selected to ‘stitch’ the darts together, while laser-cut plywood connectors and pop rivets connect separate panels. This makes installation of Fabricwood relatively simple and can be accomplished by unskilled labour.
Compared with conventional design and construction techniques, the computational design and fabrication process demands greater continuity and simultaneous planning across all stages of the project. From the design of the darted components to the shaping of the envelope, the fabrication of the panels and assembly on site, the entire process is controlled parametrically for increased accuracy and precision.

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© Edward Hendricks
© Produce.Workshop

To form darts in plywood, circular holes were created at the apex of the darts to release the stress when the darts are closed, preventing it from cracking at that point. Initial physical tests result in a complex surface consisting of conical convex hull

Internal Darting
© Produce.Workshop

The different geometrical surfaces and its transformation was then simulated digitally using a computational software and live physics engine. This is to better understand the controlling parameters of the darting operations and more importantly, to be ab

© Produce.Workshop

Joints between Fabricwood panels - cable ties for "stitching" the darts, laser-cut plywood connectors and pop-rivets to stitch separate panels together. Each module consists of 2 surfaces and are propped apart using a custom made male-female dowel connect

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© Produce.Workshop

Taking reference from the minimal surface soap-film experiments of Frei Otto, the form we generated for the site is a sail-like minimal surface, propped up by a minimum number of steel arches that are shaped in proportion to the iconic curves from the Her

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© Edward Hendricks
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© Edward Hendricks
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© Edward Hendricks
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