Greg Lynn would often tell us that a good architect should always be ready for a commission when it comes along. The way you do that is to have a constant stream of design research happening behind the scenes that is "in progress" or "WIP". Then, when a commission comes, the craft that you've been developing is now ready for prime-time. At FFD, that advice has helped us be ready for opportunities that arise.
The MARS Pavilion is a good example of design research coming to fruition when called upon. Ron and I had conducted enough experiments while at UCLA to have an understanding of the process. Design something digitally (in our case, using Rhino3D), send its coordinates to the robots who stretch fabric, then pour the concrete. When Amazon contacted us, we had just given a lecture at the Robots in Architecture Conference in Sydney, Australia. Our work had been published on a number of international blogs including Dezeen, and was getting international interest from the Discovery Channel and a number of world-renowned architects interested in using the system in projects.
Amazon's interest was in commissioning us to build an icon for their MARS Conference in Palm Springs (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics, and Space Exploration). The digital workflow was already in place, so when they asked us to scale up our work by a scale of 4X, it wasn't as big a leap as it could have been. There were new considerations that needed to be taken into account, such as structural engineering. Most temporary pavilions are made out of light-weight materials, so the idea of building an experimental structure that weighed the equivalent of two Honda Civics was a much bigger problem to solve. Walter P. Moore Engineering stepped in and worked with us (developing a total of 12 design iterations before reaching an optimal geometry. Digitally, we were simulating gravity using Kangaroo3D, to create a structure in which every component is in compression. This method ensures concrete is acting in its most natural state. WPM provided a Finite Element Analysis that gave us an understanding of how each member would perform under given loads.
Our workflow required some novel problem-solving, but didn't require a drastic revamping of our process. The digital experiments we had conducted allowed for quick integration into the new commission, and we were able to complete the project on an accelerated timeline.
The images in this post were Designed using Mesh+ for Grasshopper, then T-Splines to give the geometry thickness. Keyshot was used for rendering.