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CITA Studio: The Live Project
– every gram counts

“This year’s theme of ‘Lightness’ is introduced through the Live Project. It is a project that brings together issues of representation, fabrication, computation, control and sensitive dependency to environment within the scope of a multi-scalar hands-on design task.

In this project we ask you to design and construct a ‘blimp’ that can draw. You will be each designing and making your own, but the project will force inter-relations with the other ‘blimps’ being made in the group. By the end of the project we will have an ecology of ‘blimps’ operating within an environment and producing live digital drawings.

Project Context
The agenda of CITA studio is to examine architectural issues with a special focus on critically situating computation and digital technologies in the processes of thinking, forming and producing architecture. We start from the position that the use of digital technologies present a fundamental shift in architecture's representational and conceptual traditions.
In architecture our representations; drawings and models are not only systems of notation but also speculative sites of design investigation and discovery. As our representations develop, the possibility for architectural expression changes –not only with respect to its formal or structural thinking but also with respect to its spatial, social and experiential potential. The Live Project presents your first opportunity to engage with this agenda.”

Project Tutors
Mette Ramsgard Thomsen & Phil Ayres

Phase 1    
This early model investigates different structural techniques and how to combine them with other properties. Sticks are joined to each other using copper thread and stabilized by a tensegrity like net made of the same tread. The net also acts like a “ground” where the LEDs can be hooked onto. Paper sheets glued to the sticks provide screens for the LEDs to shine onto or hide behind, but also to add stability to the structure. Light sensors register the environment and turns the LEDs on and off according to chosen preference.

     
In this tensegrity model the copper tread that deals with the tension forces also acts as an electric cable. The model is there for divided in to one positive and one negative pole. At the three points where the two poles meet, a LED lamp is connected and lit. The three elements of the model that deals with the compression forces acts as insulators between the two poles.

Phase 2    
A light sensor inside the box registers the light from the external light source and activates a servo motor. The tension the servo adds to one of the strings transforms the pile of sticks and strings into a tensegrity structure. This demonstrates the importance of keeping all the strings in a tensegrity structure tensioned.
    Phase 3
Many existing tensegrity structures divide the compression forces between many short elements. This is a good strategy to avoid buckling. This model does the opposite. The big difference between using a tensegrity structure to attach the longest elements to just fixing them in the middle is that they are now bending downwards in a concave shape instead of upwards in a convex shape. This is due to the fact that the element is now hanging in its endpoints.
    Phase 4



In the first tensegrity model the copper tread dealt with the tension forces but also acted as an electric cable. The idea of one part that is able to do more than one thing is very relevant when you want your construction to be light.

After each wing stroke the wing has to be pulled back to its starting position to be able to repeat the strike. A counterweight can be used to ease this operation. But since “every gram counts” this is not an option unless the counterweight itself has a second function. The solution was to make the counterweight as a second pair of wings. When the first pair of wings strikes down, the second pair goes up.

This was to be solved mechanically with a string attached between the two pairs. It turned out to be quite a challenge to get this to work without adding to much weight to the construction. Instead a technique using one rubber band at each wing was tested. The problem in this case was that the tension increased exponentially as the rubber band was stretched, resulting in very stuttering strokes.

The final result was a combination of both techniques. A large rubber band connected to all of the wings and as one pair released the tension at the up stroke, the other one added tension at the down stroke. By combining the techniques, the rubber band just had to expand a couple of centimetres and the result was smooth and even strokes.
     
The simple joint made out of wood, fabric and glue makes the wing able to fold and reduce its area on the upstroke while automatically spreading to its maximum size at the down stroke, lifting the blimp up into the air.
Giving life to the Blimp    
The blimp is able to read the light conditions of the air it travels through a light sensor mounted on to its body. The more light it registers, the faster its wings will flap and the higher the blimp will fly. This results in longer duration of the flight while in a more dim light, the blimp will slow down and move a little bit more careful and the flights will be lower and shorter. The ability to read the environment gives it a sort of primitive intelligence and when the sun goes down, day turns to night, the movement of the blimp will slow down and finally, when its dark, it will fall asleep until the next day arrives with new light.
The digital representation    
A sensor hangs under the blimp and registers every time it touches ground. While the blimp is traveling the space a line is growing by a steady pace at a computer screen. Each time the sensor is activated, a signal is sent via an IR sensor to the computer that calculates the angel for the next line in relation to the existing one. Where one line ends, the next begin. The length of the line and the angle between two lines is in this way established by the duration of each flight. Each time a new line starts a filter (blur and a red tone) is put onto the existing lines to make it possible to read the age of the lines.
In this way, the digital drawing represents and gives us information about the blimps journey through the space.
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