- Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL), RMIT University
- School of Architecture & Design, RMIT University
- Design Research Institute (DRI), RMIT University
FabPod is a small project which addresses the challenge of designing and prototyping a meeting room enclosure to sit within any open-plan work environment, in this case the new Design Hub at RMIT.
The project utilises leading research in acoustic design, digital manufacturing and craft techniques. It evolved around a hypothesis that hyperbolic surfaces hold excellent properties for scattering sound, enhancing acoustic response in challenging circumstances. This addresses the diffusion of sound, avoiding resonances and ‘hot spots’ while not making the space too acoustically ‘dead’. The architecture is considered as a full-scale prototype, realised through a customisable set of components.
Beyond a simple spatial brief, the project aims to create an exemplary acoustic environment. This was developed in response to written evidence around the work of Antoni Gaudí and his use of such hyperbolic surfaces to diffuse sound. Typical meeting enclosures aim to absorb sound in their surfaces which does not easily make a good acoustic environment for communication. The combination of materials and complex geometries in the FabPod aim to scatter sound and hence create an acoustically bright space without echos. Through digital simulations this could be carefully considered and the design ‘tuned’ to suit the space.
Far from being a rough mock-up, the FabPod seeks to bridge common conceptions of ‘experimental prototypes’ with a level of refinement to achieve a high enough level of finish quality for day to day use. The detailing and construction reflects an attention to detail that is more commonly associated with furniture. The full-scale and readily use space provide a facility for testing and evaluation across a broad range of both quantitative and qualitative aspects with a view that we can continually learn and improve the building fabric. In the meantime, the interior quality of the FabPod space, with its intensity of material and geometry, provides a unique environment for the generic activity of small group meetings, and one which is acoustically superior to standard products.
The FabPod’s construction involves the assembly of a series of unique and customised component ‘cells’, prefabricated and simply bolted together on site. Each is comprised of a single hyperboloid face on a timber frame. This component provides all spatial, structural and acoustic performance of the enclosure while being small enough for easy transportation and handling by a single person. Each component is geometrically and materially customisable. With computer numeric controlled (CNC) manufacturing tools, these can be produced highly precisely and relatively easily.
Using parametric tools, a design system was developed that allowed the rapid generation of form and surface articulation, and a subsequent easy simulation of acoustics. Through a digital chain, this design environment was connected to a fabrication model. This allowed for significant feedback between project parts, allowing acoustic simulations to inform design as well as fabrication prototypes to influence the material palette and detailing decisions.
This project suggests significant new opportunities through the use of relatively common materials and manufacturing techniques in an unusual. There is a broad range of materials that make up the interior and exterior surfaces of the enclosure. The facing materials, both flat and formed into a hyperboloid shape, are made from aluminium (spun to shape on a lathe) acrylic (heat formed on a mould) and Echopanel, an acoustically absorptive sheet that is made from PET plastic and which can also be heat formed. This diversity of material allows for the customisation of acoustic performance but also allow for a rich variation in scale and colour. All pieces finish flush on their faces but connect back to MDF frames. The project benefited from significant material sponsorship from local industry.