A visit to la Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad Central del Ecuador, Quito – Patricia Belcin

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During December 2019 I visited la Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo (the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism) part of Universidad Central del Ecuador, in the country’s capital, Quito. At 2980m altitude, the beautifully designed brutalist building of the faculty felt like a hidden gem among the other buildings from the university campus, the semi-circular repetitive roof structures transmitted an equilibrium very fitting for a place dedicate to design and architectural education.

While talking to a first year architecture student I understood that in the early stages a big emphasis is put on developing hand drawing skills and the designs are tested through simple hand crafted models. I was impressed of the amount of models the students were producing, and how they were finding enough time to invest in this as the course content was broader than what I had experienced during my Part 1 in the UK.

The main reasons for this were the materials and methods being used. After observing only a few models I noticed that balsa wood is everyone’s favourite material. This soft fibre wood allowed the students to quickly craft sketch models, quick prototypes and many times it was used even for the final presentation models. The ease with which this material can be manipulated allowed the students to recreate the workshop environment in their homes and with only a scalpel and some glue they were constructing a wide variety of models. Sometimes for the final exhibition models the faculty’s laser cutter was used for achieving more precise cuts on fine details.

It’s no accident that balsa is used so extensively as it is a locally grown material which is widely available at a very low price (I noted it was approximately 10% of the price at which we purchase balsa in the UK). Balsa is a native species to Ecuador and the country is the world’s leader in balsa production, with over 90% of the wood being exported all over the world. Because of the county’s altitude, climate and environment, the balsa from the Ecuadorian forests is privileged as it offers a more stable wood in terms of density. Balsa is not an endangered species due to its fast growth and facility of reproduction.

(Information about balsa production: www.euronewsa.com/balsa.html)

This made me reflect upon how we sourced materials during the projects which I undertook at MSA. Few projects asked us to consider the usage of local materials, and when we do consider it, this is mostly seen as a constraint. However, not very often do the students question from their own initiative the provenience of the materials which they use, especially in a world where everything is available at a few clicks away. From my observations gathered whilst visiting the architecture school in Quito, I noticed that the use of local materials is widening the possibilities in terms of modelmaking and construction. By using these materials so often the students developed skills which allowed them to create a wide variety of models by understanding the different properties of the wood.

While visiting an exhibition with projects from the masters of architecture course I noticed several models which used plaster or plywood, therefore being more developed in terms of material complexity, but the combination with the balsa wood was omnipresent. In the project from the below images, the student used a series of volumetric plaster models which were combined with red painted key elements of the design. The red colour was then used in the sectional model of the final design and within the architectural drawings as a highlighting method.

Apart from testing design concepts through models I noticed the importance of the technical side within their architecture degree. An application through modelmaking was the project visible in the images from below, where groups of students tested different types of joints which could be used in creating a geometrical sphere. Several methods of joining the wooden pieces were tested, including connections that used sections of recycled plastic pipes or tubes, as well as using bespoke metal fixings which were screwed into the wood. Regardless of the complexity, these constructions were built with only using basic tools and local materials.

Being exposed to the modelmaking culture of the architecture school in Quito was a good lesson about the importance of valuing local practices and materials and making the most of what resources  you have to hand. Perhaps the ease with which we can access materials produced all over the world here in the UK makes us, unintentionally, a bit ignorant of the energy and effort it takes to produce them. As a result the profession is quite wasteful. It would be an interesting project set out to find the local equivalent of the balsa wood source in Ecuador right here and incorporate it into our models. This would be both convenient and more sustainable, helping to reduce our carbon footprint as we progress through architecture school.


This article was written by Patricia Belcin, Teaching Assistant at B.15 Modelmaking workshop 2019/20. 

Materials Recycling, Saving the World! (and yourself some money!)

One of the most important habits we can pick up as designers and makers is to make the most efficient use of anything that is freely available to us. It is essential that we consider the conservation of materials and the reduction of waste from our projects in order to play our part in maintaining a broader sustainability for the future. The least we can do is to efficiently plan how best to use the material we are working with.

This can be seen as a hindrance to quickly starting a project but in reality, effective planning can help reveal more appropriate materials for a particular task as well as best use of those at hand. This saves money and expands our understanding of material qualities.

Before planning based on an infinite amount of material it’s good practice to break down your projects into components as a list or drawing which can be referred to when assigning materials. With this reference at hand we can decide on the most appropriate materials for each component or group of components.

An example of this might be all ‘green’ or natural areas of a site could be represented using timber against a coloured acrylic as the man made roadways. Knowing this we could separate those components and begin collecting materials that suit the required sizes.

Material Saving 2

Looking through off-cuts left from past projects it is likely you can produce much, if not all of your model for free by using these.

Using Sheet Material for Component Layouts

By working out what you need from a particular piece of material before you begin to cut you can get the most from each piece you use – off cut or new.

Material Saving

This applies to both hand drawn and CAD drawn components. Rather than placing components scattered around a sheet, tessellate and arrange them in a manner that gets the most out of each piece (See Screen Shot above for a good example).

This example from Abhi Chauhan’s project below demonstrates how a piece of laser cut MDF with effective component arrangement can get the most out of a sheet of material.

DSC03077

Re-Use of materials and model components

 

Before you decide to use new materials you can also look at the role of your existing works and rework them into new ideas as demonstrated in this student video made by Signe Perkone and Sigita Zigure who graduated BA Architecture last year. Whilst we are keen to record all work produced it is impossible for us to keep everything so by re-using models this way we are helping to do our bit to reduce waste.

Scott

How to Save Money and Materials when Making Contour Models

Just before the Christmas break I made a post about the benefits and importance of concious planning and material consideration when thinking about your models. Here is a great example carried out by a group of 3rd year students over the last few days.

This group set out to produce a contour model of a site they have been given to focus on for redevelopment. They took the time to approach us before starting to plan their model which resulted in a huge saving for them in cost and in the materials saved.

Rather than using entire sheets of MDF to build up contour layers We suggested they amend their drawing to construct the contours using the ‘step’ method. This means reducing each contour piece to a fraction of the full sheet size with the only non visible area being a small step to which the piece above can be fixed.

Out of the original materials estimate of 25 full 4mm x 800mm x 450mm sheets for the main contour section of the model the amended drawings helped to decrease this number to just 6.

At the current cost of £2.50 per sheet, the original cost of material for this part of the model would equate to £62.50. After redrawing the file and planning each cut sheet the 6 sheets required cost just £15. A huge saving of £47.50 and 19 full sheets of 4mm Medite MDF.

As you can see it is well worth taking the time to evaluate what it is you are producing and the necessary material required. A good place to start is with your tutors, Jim and myself who are dealing with this subject matter everyday.

Scott

 

Jelutong Blocks Back in Stock for Masterplan Modelling

After the recent onslaught of master plan models our stockroom was left somewhat depleted! Master plan models more often than not will require large pieces of wood to create multi-storey buildings in block form.

Whilst using laminated MDF sheets may seem like a cheaper option it is worth considering the huge amount of waste and resulting impact to the environment as a whole and the immediate surroundings. Cutting masses of MDF sheeting produces a lot of dust that when inhaled excessively can be very bad for your health (Wear Dust Masks!).

Laminating sheets together can also be time consuming and the finished aesthetics are less desirable. Jelutong block may seem expensive (Prices ranging between £15 to £40 per block) but the time saved in laminating and finishing may be comparable as the majority of master plans produced here can be achieved using a single £15 block when used economically.

Be sure to check with us about costings and the best approach for your model before rushing into anything. We use these materials almost everyday and can offer sound advice that will help you make the best of your projects in the most cost effective way.

Jim and Scott