Finite Element Synthesis

Neri Oxman


Finite element applications have customarily been used as a means for the analysis of constant-property prototypes prior to their physical fabrication. To a lesser extent they have been made instrumental for purposes of design generation and fabrication of variable material-property prototypes. The work explores the potential of applying finite element methods in the early stages of the design process and suggests a Finite Element Synthesis (FES) approach to the design of physical prototypes fabricated with variable material properties. The approach seeks to unify between analysis protocols and computational routines for design generation. With the aim of achieving micro structural material property variation across the surface area and volume of a fabricated component, the FES software environment is implemented in a design exploration for building skins modeled after various natural tissues that demonstrate the variation of physical properties as a function of their performance criteria. Two classes of explorations are suggested. The paper introduces the FES design approach, illustrates its virtual methodological set up, and demonstrates the approach through design explorations recently exhibited at the Museum of Science (Boston) and the Museum of Modern Art (NY). Future work into material-based analytic routines for variable-property fabrication is suggested and its implications on the various fields of design are reviewed.

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