Allotropic Systems: Thermo-sensitive reconfigurable molds
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Allotropy in the natural world occurs with variation within the arrangement of the atoms within a specific element. The differing structural arrangements make up different materials, such as the element carbon that produces both diamond and graphite. The performance of these materials under pressure and heat depends on their structural configuration. Here, variation is a catalyst for material formation that bears the consequences of the process of creation. Geometric variation created from digital computation has fostered the application of nature's morphological efficiency and beauty to the form finding experiments of designers and architects. The term 'digital craft' has been coined in response to the increased validity of a design process that reifies numerical methods of creating form and the digital fabrication techniques used to build them. While the availability of digital fabrication has allowed architects to produce physical models almost as quickly as they can design them, this level of prototyping continues to distance the human component within the building process from the on-screen design process as it is divorced from physical manipulation of materials. Allotropic Systems places its focus on several research avenues as an attempt to bridge analog methods of making with physical computing. Physical computing refers to sensors, actuating devices, and coded microcontrollers as a building material used within a reflexive casting process. The design process proposed by this research opens up design space within the tool (algorithm), the system (series of heat-sensitive soft molds), and the final structure. These components make up what is being referred to as an architecture machine, a term proposed by Nicholas Negroponte in the late 1960's as an artificial intelligence that can "assist, augment, and eventually replicate" the architectural design process. The machine however, is not seen as a method of automation as it relies on the active participation of the designer. The process is seen as a mixture of Johann von Goethe's Gestalt and Bildung, where a structured form is altered through a reflexive process of sensing heat gain of the poured material that determines that material's static form. The part-to-whole relationship of the resulting structures is allotropic: the same elements that form the network are individually shaped by the event of their making such that the same network can take on a variety of shapes. Such a system proposes a means to make moldable materials, like plastics, more responsive to the contingencies of their making, as well as re-introduce the human component to an analog design process driven by digital computation.