brick + tedX marin

teamwork, design iteration, and blowing people’s minds.

“Let’s do a design competition!” is not a phrase often heard in the context of trade shows. But that’s exactly what brick did when asked to sponsor TedX Marin and exhibit at a “see and be seen” 2-hour cocktail party for Marin’s most engaged community members. What followed was a 10-week design adventure, a lot of trial and error, and a bit of practical magic to bring a winning idea to life.

that’s unexpected.

To kick things off, we called up the show producers and asked if we could do something completely different. Luckily (and surprisingly), TedX Marin was excited by the idea of something outside the norm of the predictable table and easel displays. Brick was granted a 10×10-square-foot-area in the center of the event to create a structure, with the height constrained at 12 feet due to overhead string lights.

the formula

We had a mere two-hour window to show off our work, so the exhibit needed to be quick to build (and disassemble) with affordable materials. Ideally brick’s exhibit would speak to the practice of architecture while embodying TED’s acronym: technology, entertainment, and design.

the competition

With cash prizes on offer for the first- and second-place designs, brick’s architects and designers got together at a weekly “crowdsource” lunch to talk opportunities, constraints and design goals. Then individuals and small groups started developing concepts for an exhibit that would showcase ideas and encourage interaction and engagement with event attendees.

conventional approach

Concepts ran the gamut from wooden structures, to business card monuments, to kinetic sculptures and interactive “create as you go” data visualization. But one idea floated by the judges filled them with delight: Casey Crawmer’s concept for a pneumatic that relied on air and fabric to create form.

plan (b) “emergency house (of fun)”
Casey Crawmer’s winning idea played with the conference theme of “Plan B”. Little did we know that our design iterations would take us through plan b, c, d, and beyond.

air-supported structures and 1960s radicals

originally intended to challenge traditional building methods and offer a simple, affordable means of creating temporary structures, the pneumatic led to large scale exploration of fabric and air-supported structures, such as the Hajj Terminal designed by SOM and structural engineer Fazlur Khan.

source: “Air Apparent: Pneumatic Structures” Will Mcclean, Architectural Review

Hajj Terminal

cottage industry

It was becoming clear that to fit the budget, the pneumatic must be fabricated at brick, by brick staff. This is when design got real. Casey looked at the fabric and considered a design that used existing fabric widths and the space constraints of the venue to advantage. What emerged was a translucent, double membrane cube with a neon orange core and an oculus to the sky.

pneumatic cube, final gameplan.

sew like the wind

Director of Operations Lynn Chock came to the rescue with her mad sewing skills and logical mind. Brick staff measured, cut, pre-taped and pieced endless yards of ripstop nylon to the rhythmic sound of Lynn’s sewing machine. After solving the puzzle of how to turn the 10-foot cube right-side out and keep the second membrane intact came the moment of truth. Inflation.

the eleventh hour

The night before TedX: At the final scale, we made an unfortunate discovery. The sheer fabric leaked air. Too much air. We added fans. We experienced some dejected moments. Then we enjoyed the beautiful mitered corners on the roof and considered letting the cube be a pretty marshmallow. And then we went to bed.

midnight marshmallow with mitered corners.

air-assisted structure

The morning of the event, we tested an endoskeleton of PVC, hoping that the tension of the PVC against fabric combined with inflation would give us a cube that people could occupy.

It worked. The view of vibrant blue sky from inside was glorious. So good in fact, that Casey created a VR experience of being inside the cube so attendees could experience their real-time observations in virtual reality. Many people reported: “Mind blown!”.

would we do it again?

A competition for an exhibit with the lifespan of a mayfly was a crazy idea. The process was frustrating at times; implementation, costs, budgets, and timing were all challenging. But ultimately it was very satisfying. Those stalwarts who stuck with the project to the very end were elated when we pulled it off. We created an interactive experience that people loved and it made for some great questions and easy networking. As for the journey? Short term fabrication bends and stretches the mind in a way that revit and rhino can’t. And the team members bent and stretched in and out of the cube in ways they didn’t expect either!

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