Serial boxes exhibition at 3A Gallery in San Francisco: June 2012

Serial Boxes

Professors Mark Cabrinha, Clare Olsen, Jeff Ponitz, Carmen Trudell, and students
Department of Architecture Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
The Serial Box project is a collaborative process of design and fabrication that explores several part-to-whole relations: a single artifact to a collection of artifacts, a single designer to a collective of designers, and a single act of design to a larger design process.

Four faculty members established the basic parameters of design and fabrication, giving instructions that were both specific and open- ended (a 4”x6”x1” piece of maple, CNC milled on two sides; one side is a shallow relief with a single aperture, the other side is a voluptuously textured surface). Students worked in pairs to re- interpret these instructions within their own design sensibilities, creating a “family” of four related Serial Boxes. The authorship of each artifact lies equally in the instruction and the execution, drawing upon conceptual artist Sol LeWitt’s statement that “[t]he idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” The Serial Boxes could be read equally as one collection, 14 families, or 56 individual artifacts.

Serial Production
The design and fabrication of the Serial Boxes followed a sequential process that balanced repetition and variation to produce a cohesive set of artifacts with their own unique identities. Students began by bending a number of basswood strips into a composition of spline curves. These compositions served as the generator for subsequent artifacts in each family of four Serial Boxes. Students re-interpreted their basswood splines as digital drawings, which in turn generated digital surfaces. This digital information was used to computer-numerically mill maple blocks, which were then used as formwork for plaster casts. Each step of this process incrementally transformed the initial generative composition while maintaining the legibility of the family.

Technology, Tactility, and Craft
Despite their digital derivation, the Serial Boxes are material artifacts with a weight, texture, and finish; the tools used to design and fabricate them (parametric design software, a computer- numerically controlled router, fabric formwork) are physically manifest in the product. Through an understanding of the interrelationship between digital and material processes—a sense of digital craft—students were able to subtly manipulate the character of each artifact: a family of four Serial Boxes may have identical surface geometries, but widely divergent surface qualities that reflect light in distinct ways. This attention to material and detailing in a serial context drew inspiration from the minimalist sculpture of Donald Judd, who once remarked “[a] simple box is really a complicated thing.”

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