folly in millenium park

Architecture of the digital age lacks appreciation as a constructed object.  The digital design realm has enabled an obsession with surface and form in architecture while devaluing the most basic concepts of construction, structure, and detail.  Architecture can heighten experience through its own devices.  Consequently, the fluid and precise digital modeling environment enables a formal obsession void of construction and material reality.  Material is often imposed on form, putting the very necessities of fabrication in conflict with the intended expression of the building.  Essentially, the digital realm encourages a top-down formal emphasis while ignoring a bottom-up material approach. This thesis executes a strategy with which digital architecture can re-engage the means and methods that compose it: synthesize the bottom-up material sense with the top-down formal parametric ability in the construction of a wooden gridshell folly in Millennium Park.



The ideology this thesis opposes is that of “Architecture as a digital construct.” A form is conceived in a digital modelling environment free from physical forces and construction reality. Fabrication results by way of material being forced upon the digital form, taking little advantage nor inspiration from material or detail.


“Sense|Ability” is an “Architecture as a constructed work” ideology that this thesis implements. Material and construction concepts are integral to the design response during its development. Material performance becomes a design parameter and is programmed as such into the digital modelling environment.


gridshell trials


investigation | gridshell folly

A wooden gridshell directs the mode of investigation to three critical scales: the micro (joint), meso (element or lath) and the macro (whole structure). At each scale, the ability of wood to act in bending serves as a design parameter. Several case studies (four post-formed gridshells and one support column structure) modelled both physically and digitally result in an understanding of the anatomy of bending.


At the micro level, structural connections at the nodes and end conditions dictate the type of curvature through fixed versus pinned connections and bracing. The bending of wood at the meso level can be digitally predicted by way of elastica curves and the cornu spiral. Stiffness in the final structure at the macro level is a resultant of the multiplicity of interactions at the micro and meso levels in addition to the number of layers of laths and construction technique.



The final structure is designed following a procedural logic. First, the design’s objective function and constraints defined an initial desired volume. That volume would undergo a series of form finding simulations using algorithms that consider bending at the three critical scales as well as construction type, resulting in a physically tested form in real time as formal tweaks are made.


If the resultant form is not desirable, there is a return to the initial form for redesign. Once a desired form results, that form has a surface grid calculated based on desired construction. Finally, fabrication paths are organized for the structural laths.


execution of workflow

Full scale column model digital mockup

Final structure digital mockup


Ultimately, the goal for the folly was to serve as a structure facilitating circulatory flow while also framing moments of pause. The folly structure operates as an anticlastic timber gridshell resting on three pin connections. The structure performs with a three-way overlapping network of laths that connect in various manners. The primary laths go from one of the three pin connected base points to the perimeter edge beam at the top of the structure. The secondary and tertiary laths connect from various nodes to the perimeter edge beam. To erect the structure, the edge beam must first be constructed and hoisted into place via crane. The joints for the primary laths are marked on the base and edge beam. Finally, the remaining laths are put into place on their designated joint locations.

Through the synthesis of material sense and parametric ability, this thesis designs a structure that effectively reclaims its means and methods, using material performance as a design parameter.