The Vertebrae

Zach Downey graduated from Architecture in 2005 and has since worked at SHoP architects as the Digital Design Specialist and the Director of Applied Technology. He now works at Parabox, a company he co-founded that develops automation tools for architecture, engineering, and construction firms. These tools increase the efficiency of workflows so that getting to the end product is faster and easier. 
He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia and the New York City College of Technology.

The Vertebrae functions as an intervention using felt to address the center circulation aisle of Burchard Hall and questions its presence as a space for meeting and collaborating. By the suspension of the undulating ribs, the installation implies and projects spatial boundaries, and the reverberation and resonance of sound within different locations of Burchard Hall is decreased. The addition of a soft interior ceiling plane encourages space for conversation and a sense of privacy and creates a home for the Design/Build collaboration table.

In collaboration with Zach Downey of Parabox Labs, this project was designed to instigate the use of parametric design tools. Not necessarily for the process of form making, but for understanding the role of these tools as instigators of speed, efficiency, and accuracy in our methods of designing. By using grasshopper software, the phenomena of catenary curves were easily simulated in order to manipulate the curves assuming gravity as a key component within the installation. In using gravity, not necessarily as a limit to the design, but as a driver for the language of the installation, we became interested in creating an intervention that was solely structured on tension. Relying upon the context in which we were designing, the columns became the compressive structure that allowed for a completely tensile intervention.

The workshops that were held in order to design the installation were an investment in the power of collaboration with digital tools as a method of working to enhance speed and quality in design discourse. Over the course of two workshops within two days, the installation developed from mere ideas to a set of documents for making. The materials were fabricated and the intervention was assembled over the following three days, allowing the project to exist within one week.

In all, the intervention is driven by the intent of the Digital Mentorship Collaborative as a student led and sustained research and demonstration group within the School of Architecture + Design. The group functions as a think tank for digital tools and processes, believing in working collectively to share working knowledge and ideas of the digital world with our peers and colleagues.

Writing & Photos by Bryce Beckwith