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UMN Catalyst Workshop

Spring 2015

School of Architecture, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

Project Description

During this weeklong workshop at the University of Minnesota called Catalyst 2015, 13 graduate students participated in a  hands-on design-build project. Partnering with Blaine Brownell on faculty at UMN, we were able to use the six days to manipulate a smart material to aid in a self-assembly process using geometry, readily available materials and low-tech detailing, producing a project called “Shrivel and Shrink”.

Polystyrene (aka Shrinky Dink) is a one-way reacting smart material that shrinks and stiffens into a plate-like material when heated. Never before used in architecture architectural application, the first step was to make 3-d structural units and them assemble them into a larger structure in a bottom-up design method. The polystyrene material, when heated to about 300˚F, shrinks, thickens and hardens to approximately 40% its original size. This property helped self-assemble origami boxes. The individual units were arranged into dome-like and strengthened on the underside with yet more polystyrene. From there, each mini-domes was arranged to eventually build a 9’ tall self-supporting arch. The pixelated graphic was an homage to the first dean at the UMN School of Architecture—Ralph Rapson.


Credits and Information

FACULTY TEAM: Blaine Brownell, Doris Sung, Dylan Wood and Justin Kang

STUDENTS: Jesse Campos, Takashi Chibana, Deuk-Geun Hong, Nicholas Kramer, Anna Mahnke, Sienna Mathiesen, Pat Moffett, Mir Noh, Elliot Olney, Cara Prosser, Hannah Roth, Chelsey Schon and Paige Sullivan

From UMN SOA website: Architecture as Catalyst is an annual week-long event, bringing new ideas, conversations, and expertise to the school by inviting guests from around the world to run experimental workshops with graduate students and give public lectures on their work. Each year, the week before spring break, first and second year graduate architecture students engage with the guests and host faculty in intensive five-day workshops, each focused around a unique set of ideas and techniques. 


The primary goal of Catalyst is to raise the level of discourse about design and to provoke leaps in perception of what design can be. The workshops serve as intense, rigorous, transformative and creative sparks within the spring semester, and participants then re-engage their peer groups able to share new ways of thinking, communicating and making. 


Catalyst guests have ranged from experienced educators to practitioners to artists, both within and outside the discipline of architecture. Workshops span a wide field of topics, such as parametric modeling, digital fabrication, smart materials, sensory objects, food science, filmmaking, sound recording, book arts, stereotomy and photogrammetry.

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