Ben Milbourne, RMIT University
Topological Typology investigates the transformation of typological information identified within existing built environments and its subsequent implementation through digital fabrication. Prototyping in this project served as a means of testing and evaluation, but also discovery in identifying unexpected material properties that added additional detail and richness to the project.
Early work for a small house in North Melbourne identified that in the historic buildings surrounding the site, articulation of facade surfaces typically clustered around openings within a single material, rather than surface articulation corresponding with material articulation as is common in many contemporary buildings. Several experiments were undertaken to explore how to translate this observed typological trait into a new configuration for the proposed pre-cast concrete panel skin of the building.
Through this experimentation, a procedural system was developed where a simulation of overlapping magnetic fields located at the centres of a nominal facade design produced complex interference patterns of field lines radiating out from the perimeter of these openings. A square-blade profile with a stepped chiselling action was applied to these radiating paths, producing zones of intense topological articulation around the openings. This surface effect produces visual and haptic registers where the increased surface articulation signals where to enter or engage with the building. These visual and haptic qualities are like those operating in different materials and configuration in the historic references identified around the site.
Subsequent tests of robotically carved polystyrene, CNC milled XPS foam, and CNC milled plywood prototypes explored the implementation of these surface effects through different material and fabrication approaches. These tests revealed that not only was the realisation of the surface effects possible, but that the material properties of the plywood added an additional layer of detail and visual complexity to the form-liners and in the finished precast panels, revealing the agency of prototyping in enriching design processes.
Explorations of the potential of procedural tools and digital fabrication in architectural practice often focus on either material/process optimisation or the development of novel tectonics in the pursuit of the radically new. This work seeks to apply these techniques in the transformation of the know or familiar, rather than the novel. Emerging technologies change how we make our buildings, however, the cultural information embedded within our built environments can and should be sustained and transformed through this transition.
Ben Milbourne_ is an architect, artist and academic based in Melbourne. He completed his PhD in Architecture and Urban Design at RMIT University in 2019.
Image: Pre-cast concrete prototype using CNC milled plywood form-liner.