This project is located in an old industrial park in Shanghai, China. The brief was to convert a dilapidated building from a warehouse into an architectural design studio. The concept of the Silk Wall (the external wall that surrounds the warehouse) was based on manipulating simple materials using up to date fabrication processes.
In selecting a material, we rejected the idea of using fake decoration to disguise the structure. The material we chose were cinder blocks that are used throughout China because they are so inexpensive. Exploring the limits of the material; the unexpressive form and rigid dimensions, we decided that instead of using the traditional bricklaying method with a simple stacking logic, we would create stacking algorithms that brought the simple material to life.
The wall was inspired by the memory of the existing site, which used to be a silk workshop. Parametric processes were used to superimpose the patterns of silk forms while allowing the wind to enter. The wall consists of cement blocks, angled to create an interesting texture that varies the amounts of light into the building. To initiate the design concept, we designed an algorithm to force a rotation of each cement block. The parameters of the angle of rotation were calculated through the analysis of the differing gradients of a photograph of silk.
To fabricate this complex pattern, we designed special fabrication tools. A number of guides were designed to position the blocks relative to the different angles outputted by the algorithms. These guides were envisioned to help the workers understand the complexity of the bricklaying pattern. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen difficulties in the actual construction, we were forced to redefine the computer algorithm and reduce the amount of the rotation angle. In so doing this we had to compromise the fabrication process and architectural effect, making the pattern of the wall less tangible. Fortunately, through the advantages of parametric design, a series of alternative results were soon produced by adjusting the parameters, and, after a short calculation, offered us a range of options before us, and making it easier for us to make a decision on the final effect. Eventually, the parameters where refined so that only ten angles were used for the actual construction. The workers were taught how and where to position a template, that was designed by the algorithm, so as to fix the blocks in the correct position. Of course, the accuracy of the angles depends on manual operations, but the errors are not serious enough to have a major impact on the final effect. The architect and workers collaborated with each other to facilitate an accurate fabrication result, and the final product achieved an excellent standard.