Fall 2015 Syllabus

CAM /// Creative Architecture Machines


Fall 2015 – CCA Advanced Architecture Studio: BArch 507-02 / MArch 607-02
Instructors: Jason Kelly Johnson (jjohnson2@cca.edu) with Michael Shiloh (mshiloh@cca.edu)
Google+: #CreativeArchitectureMachines Twitter & Instagram: #creativearchmachines

Since the late 1990’s architects have typically used commercial CAD software to feed CAM programs to feed CNC machines. These “computer-aided” processes and “numerically-controlled” machines are most often used to increase efficiency and make the design, prototyping and fabrication processes more routine, faster and cheaper. In architecture and design schools around the world students are increasingly being taught to use standard suites of software and industrial hardware technologies such as laser cutters, robotic mills and 3d printers as ways to precisely model the formal and geometric aspects of their designs. Yet these fabrication technologies are rarely interrogated or explored in a critical or creative fashion. Why is it that architects are taught to be mere users of technology rather than innovators? Why are the core creative tools of our profession designed by systems engineers? What creative potential exists at the heart of these machines, where bits intermix with atoms, where digital code meets material logic? 

This studio will embrace a more radical approach to the design and fabrication of architecture. The main ambition of the studio is to explore the efficacy of digital processes and their potential to contribute to a wider conversation about architecture, technology and culture. Through the production of experimental and speculative fabrication machines we will endeavor to contribute to a wider debate within architecture about the role architects might play in a coming world where the lines between the digital and the physical are rapidly being blurred beyond recognition.

During the Fall 2015 semester the Creative Architecture Machines studio will investigate the intersections of dwelling architecture with experimental additive manufacturing technologies using earthen materials. In recent years 3d printing has grown exponentially from a fringe technology to an important tool at the heart of many emerging creative and technical practices. This is being accelerated by a dramatic decrease in software and hardware costs, in addition to a growing community of contributors sharing open-source knowledge about techniques, materials and best practices. While much of the 3d printing research and development is occurring at the product scale, there is growing interest exploring the possibilities at the scale of walls, buildings or landscapes. This semester studio participants will work collaboratively to explore this latent territory through research, design and ultimately building working architectural-scale 3d printing machines. 

Participants will explore these ideas through the iterative prototyping of actual living, breathing, working technologies. In Phase 01 of the semester students will create two-dimensional (X,Y) robotic “drawing machines” that respond to indeterminate inputs (sun, wind, sound, etc.) from their environment to create novel drawings, paintings, drippings, etchings, compositions in light and pixels. In Phase 02 students will create four-dimensional (X, Y, Z plus time) machines for the production of a radical new class of domestic dwelling unit. During this phase students will create fabrication machines “end effectors” that will work in tandem with a larger gantry system that will be installed in studio and eventually in the CCA backlot. Students will work back and forth between processes of design, prototyping, playing, hacking, coding, learning and feedback.      

The work of the studio will be situated at the intersection of architecture, robotics engineering and DIY hacker culture. We will also explore how allied design fields, such as those inventing new robotic devices, military systems, prosthetic engineering, high-tech clothing, furniture, lighting, automobiles, and more, are latent with new material, spatial and ecological possibilities. The studio will be extremely “hands-on” and will ask students to work iteratively and inventively through modes of digital and analog modeling, simulation, fabrication and performance testing. Structured technical workshops will cover the use of micro-controllers and a variety of sensors, actuators and other integrated electronic media, as well as modes of parametric modeling and digital fabrication.


The studio will meet MWF from 3-7 throughout the semester. In general, Jason and Michael will overlap on most Wednesdays for collective teaching, field trips and reviews. Jason will meet with students on Mondays, while Michael will meet with students on Fridays. 


You should consider all of the work you do this semester to be “Open Source” and that you share ideas, code, recipes etc. throughout the semester. There is also an expectation that all final projects be thoroughly documented on Instructables.com.  


This semester you will work with Rhino + Grasshopper + Firefly and other plug-ins. You should also have Arduino and Processing loaded on your laptops. Each of you should also expect to contribute to the projects through the collective purchase of things like microcontrollers (Arduino + Tiny G), motors, sensors, 3d printed parts, etc. You are also encouraged to bring in equipment you may have at home including tools, 3d printers, soldering equipment, etc. 


You will primarily be graded on the level and quality of your participation in studio activities including discussion and workshops. You will also be asked to complete weekly assignments throughout the semester. You will be asked to make multiple research presentations and to complete an installation and presentation at the end of the seminar. The assessment of letter grades will be calculated as follows:

(25%) Class Discussions, Participation, Attitude
(25%) Midterm Progress
(50%) Final Project and Presentation; final documentation submission

Definition of Grades: A = outstanding achievement—significantly exceed standards; B = commendable achievement—exceeds standards; C = acceptable achievement—meets standards; D = marginal achievement—below standards; F = failing

Strict Attendance Policy: All scheduled class meetings are mandatory. If you miss more than three studio sessions you will be given the letter grade F without exception. Nevertheless, if you are going to be late, or need to miss a session due to illness or misfortune, simply contact us!