Ballinger: Fabrication (B:Fab) is a new Ballinger group formed to document and share modeling techniques while elevating the firm’s technical capabilities.

Ballinger summer intern and Syracuse architecture student, Lia Margolis (LM), caught up with Ballinger architect and B:Fab member Raymond Sova (RS) to discuss the group’s formation.

LM: I understand that B:Fab was launched by a few passionate designers and architects and serves as Ballinger’s internal digital fabrication group. Architecture is an art form that relies on drawings and models to communicate meaning. Where does Ballinger fit in to that tradition?

RS: Ballinger prioritizes model-building as a core piece of the design process, and has since before 3D printers, laser-cutters and all of the technology that we now have immediate access to. The office has standards and preferences for building models with a high level of craft and precision. Over the past few decades as we’ve moved into more laser cutting, 3D printing, CNC routing, and other fabrication technology, we’ve learned that more attention and specialized knowledge is required to use and operate the tools effectively.

LM: What led you to form B:Fab?

RS: I share Ballinger’s philosophy that model building is an integral part of the design process. When I was considering working at Ballinger that was something I was drawn to, and I’ve had a lot of experience in model building since I’ve been here. I have been involved in a few interesting models and dabbled in all kinds of fabrication technology. I saw an opportunity to help standardize and share information in a way that is easily accessible to my colleagues and to articulate the level of quality we expect from our models. The B:Fab team is testing and documenting how to achieve the best results from a variety of materials and technologies.

LM: When did B:Fab get started?

RS: The official group is still pretty new but it’s always been here in spirit. We came up with the idea after encountering some challenges while creating a large scale 3D model for a new project. The model turned out great but logistically there were a lot of headaches in getting things assembled property. We conducted a debrief and decided to take a closer look at how to best ensure these kinds of issues don’t reoccur. That led us to form a team of dedicated people who can act as in-house fabrication consultants. The goal is to avoid mistakes we’ve made in the past and ultimately achieve a better result in less time. It’s also an opportunity to experiment and test new ideas and technology.

LM: So you identified a group of skilled people within the firm and centralized resources.

RS: Yes, however the most skilled people in the firm are often the least available because they’re in high demand. What’s nice about these newer technologies is that students know them right out of school. The B:Fab group is generally on the younger side, and we’re readily available as a resources to others.

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LM: The marketing team is fascinated by the UW-Madison Chemistry façade model. The model is particularly intriguing because the creation process involved both technology and hand-crafting skills. Can you explain how you made it?

RS: That one was a lot of fun! It was an ambitious scale and it definitely played into why I wanted to formalize B:Fab. I built the wood ‘skeleton’ by hand and built structure to support the additional weight and complexity. It’s about 12” by 48” by 44” tall, and weighs about 60 lbs. It required a ton of 3D printing; we used the powder 3D printer and made pretty convincing terra cotta panels with custom extrusion profiles. We utilized the plastic 3D printer for all window mullions and frames. It has a much higher level of detail than a typical model – it was more about actual building components and details rather than traditional massing studies.

LM: Right, it’s way beyond a simple massing concept.

RS: A fun fact about that model is that we’ve also been able to use it for not only presentation purposes, but also for coordination with other architects and engineers. We took detailed photos of the model to convey the design intent to the local architecture firm we’re teaming with. Beyond communicating the design to our client, the model has been valuable in communicating with our team.

LM: Do you think scale models are helpful in the design process? Do you prioritize those?

RS: We use a variety of different scale models and mock-ups at different points throughout the design process. For example, when designing healthcare and lab environments we 3D print furniture and equipment, and bring them with us to user workshops to help clients gain a better understanding of early planning choices. We’ll go to a workshop with a kit of parts and allow users to explore the most efficient use of spaces. Models can be as large as full scale or high fidelity mock-ups. For our healthcare clients we’ll sometimes make mock-ups of headwalls and other elements within a patient room. With a one-to-one scale user groups can interact with the space and experience how it will be arranged. I see potential for models of all sizes/scales to be used for communicating with clients and team members, engaging users, and achieving the best design possible.

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