Eric Paulos and Unmaking

27 Oct, 2017

Eric Paulos and Unmaking

Last year, BCNM was proud to support four amazing projects in our first faculty research seed grant awards, adjudicated by our alumni. Read about how Eric Paulos and his team have leveraged this funding to provide artists and designers with opportunities to plan for failure.

Eric Paulos, Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering Computer Science and Chief Learning Officer at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, and Computer Science graduate Jasper O'Leary, are exploring how new design techniques enabled by digital fabrication can also be exploited to allow an artist or designer to not only create a final form but also plan in the design for its destruction and failure - to be creative with the material process of unmaking.

Inspired by the work of Gustav Metzger and his Auto- Destructive Art Movement, their work is part of an effort to develop design tools that allow individuals to “design in” the decay and auto-destructive elements of an object and embed it within its final form. Their project seeks to enable failure, decay, or wear to be foregrounded as part of the create effort of digital fabrication and design, in which the creator chooses to reveal or hide the failure.

Paulos and O'Leary used standard modeling tools such as Rhino 3D with embedded scripting tools to modify its behavior, as well as inverted Finite-Element Methods (FEM) algorithms in which the user designs part of the model to have an increased percentage of failure that may or may not manifest physically in the final part. In particular, they chose to explore heating as an unmaking technique.

In unmaking by segmentation, Paulos and O'Leary created a paradigm to allow the user to separate the model into functional parts, which are attached with hinges. Upon applying heat, the object becomes unhinged, and the designer can then iterate on certain parts (such as a grip or handle), rather than re-fabricating the entire object.

In unmaking by addition, Paulos and O'Leary examined value-adding with the notion of a patina, which is a film or impression on the surface of an artifact’s form weathering over time. The user selects an object, and then a surface on that object on which the patina will form, under which a heating element is embedded.

Paulos and O'Leary hope their work will alter mainstream discussion around making to include making and unmaking as part of the design process. They hope to offer their innovative unmaking technologies as low-cost and accessible, and provide new opportunities for education, participation, and personalization by other non-experts into a novel making technique focused on function, technology, and creative unmaking.