Design

Posts about design & the design industry.

BecauseWeDynamo, a set of Fabrication Nodes for Project Dynamo and Revit

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We here at Because We Can love leveraging technology and creating our own unique way of working to make great things. While we’ve developed a decent amount of in-house software to help our work over the years, I’m very excited and proud to begin sharing some of that work with you, with the initial release of “BecauseWeDynamo”.

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It’s a set of custom-made Nodes for Project Dynamo focused on fabrication. You can find it in the Package Manager in Dynamo under BecauseWeDynamo and the open-source code is hosted here on GitHub.

A wonderful example of what this is all about is shown with the complex triangle walls of our recently completed Shipping Container Lounge project. The organic, flowing interior walls are made up of hundreds of unique triangles joined together to make a fluid, undulating, expressive (yet affordable!) surface.

Making something like this without some automation is almost impossible; the complexity can be hard to manage both in the design and in the building. So we used what’s called in our industry “Generative Design” where the combination of parametric 3D models and intelligent functional programming are used together to have the computer generate the design for you. You set up the rules and the smarts, and let the computer figure out the rest.

Autodesk Revit is wonderful at producing parametric models. We used it to made a special triangle object or ‘Family’ as they are called in Revit that you can flex using math into whatever size and configuration you need. You set the location of it’s three corner points, and the Family produces a flat triangle with radius tips, an offset ‘gap’ between it and the triangle next to it, and even proper placement for the joining hardware and more. This let us ‘hang’ these Adaptive Families off of 3D splined curves, making it easy to control the complex surface of the wall. Rather than model every triangle, we simply can push and pull control points on the splines, and have all the triangles model themselves.

However, just having a nice model of something is only the first 1/3rd of actually getting it built. Managing the production and assembly of hundreds of unique parts can be very daunting! This is where automation via functional programming is a huge help. We needed some way to export every triangle in a format that works with our CNC Router, and we need to label every triangle for ease of assembly. Doing it manually would take forever and is error-prone. Much better to produce a ‘script’ and let the computer automate that task for us!

Project Dynamo is a ‘functional visual scripting language’ for creating, manipulating, and automating all sorts of design data by non-programmers. Rather than write code from scratch, or call on existing libraries, and produce a stand-alone application like a software developer might, tools like Dynamo let us easily create one-off workflow solutions to automate small repetitive tasks and model impressively complex objects. It works fanatically well with Autodesk Revit, and thus was an obvious choice. Plus we really dig it, and dig the people working on it, so it was a joy to use.

Rather than write code, where the ‘flow’ of the program is abstract and non-visual, tools like Dynamo let you ‘draw’ your program. Perfect for visual designers like us! By connecting various Nodes together, you ‘wire’ together a solution for your project-specific problems, iteratively working your way through it as the code runs live and you see the immediate results.

Now, Dynamo is rather new, and it didn’t have all the Nodes we needed for this project. So we decided to create our own custom Nodes to scratch our own itches, and shared them openly for other designer-fabricators to make use of. For as we have for years now we release most of what we do under a creative-commons license.

So one thing our custom Nodes help do is parse the Revit model, label every triangle, lay them all out flat, and then export them to our CNC router for production. Every triangle is not only labeled, each edge of the triangle is labeled so you can easily figure out what edges go together. It made short work of this problem, and helped us make this wonderful and complex design efficiently and effectively.

Within BecauseWeDynamo you’ll find Nodes for part labeling, DXF exporting (with proper true curves!), mesh topology walking, edge labeling, and even our own custom old-school line-based pen-plotter style font suitable for CNC production. We’ve also got some auto-sectioning tools ala 123D Make, and are currently working on Nodes to help automate shop drawing production and development of complex surfaces. You’ll find on the GitHub site some great working examples, and we’ll be developing more samples, how-tos, and actual physical case study objects as well.

Our ongoing goal with this project is to make the fabrication of elements in Project Dynamo and Revit easier and more efficient; thus empowering all designers to be able to make great things like we do.

Diner Wall

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We finally got photos of this project from late last year! We had helped ClifBar out with an internal wall they were building to showcase and promote the philanthropy projects their employees could help out with as part of a company program.

They had a cool idea to show off the different projects available as "menu items", so the diner wall concept was born.

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We helped with designing the layout of the wall, sourcing the nessesary items and fabricating the specialty objects.... like these 'ticket takers' made out of old bike wheels!

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And this 1950's counter! complete with diner accessories!

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And finally, of course, a cool diner sign.

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The wall is a well used hit!

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New postcards

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Our new postcards from 4x6 showed up recently. And they look great!

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Each one showcases a different project that we completed last year, and covers a range of commercial and residential projects and well as a good range of styles.

This is from a residential office project.
A swiveling desk design for a muti functional room. Other elements have since been built:

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Next, a commercial project for Anno Domini, a San Jose Art Gallery.
Giant folding, rolling kiosks to expand their usable space:

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Then, another residential project of curving stairs and useful but still beautiful storage space in this
Library loft space:

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And finally, an internal marketing project with our own in-house library project.

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Then, of course you must check out the back!

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Secret Maker Superhero Armoire

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For those Makers that also want nice things, and have wonderful treasures to display, may we introduce... The Secret Maker Superhero Armoire Display Case!

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Looks like a regular large glass fronted Armoire you say?
Well watch this...

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The sides open to reveal not only access to labeled pull out cubbies, but also, le coup de grâce: hidden pegboard tool and utility belt storage.

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Beautiful etched glass and front aluminum detailing by day....

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Full on Maker storage by night!

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With awesome little cubbies!

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This armoire was made for the same room as the Swiveling desks we made a few months ago. More images of the room and all the pieces we've made for it can be seen on the project page.

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Instructable on the Serpent Twins Tails

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Our good friends over at the Instructables asked us if we wouldn't post up how we made the Serpent Twin's tails. So here it is!

Enjoy! It's our first big instructable so we'd love for you to go there and leave us a comment on it.

Also, if you want to see the Serpent Twins in person, there is a big party this weekend at Jon's shop. All are welcome!

The Serpent Twins project - in progress

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The Serpent Twins are coming along, but still have lots to go.
The heads of each critter is framed out, and now come all the details and finishing bits.

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One Serpent will be all black, and one all white. Here the white one awaits it's head...

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The fins for the "backs" of the serpents were cut out of sheet metal, then welded together.

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in the end, they will look like this:
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More to come soon!

The Serpent Twins

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We have joined up with our friends John and Kyrsten over at Form & Reform to design and build a fun project for Burning Man!
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The project has just launched its kickstater page. So please donate to the cause!

John and Kyrsten over at Form and Reform, have created magical pieces out of metal like the Golden Mean Snail Car, and the Zeppelini. Now we are working with them to turn these metal barrels into a Deco Nordic God creature called.... The Serpent Twins.

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The front will be powered by these little electric cars...

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And the barrels will be filled inside with programable LEDs. One of the serpents will be all dark metal with a "fire" light show on the inside. The other will be white barrels with a more etherial colorful light show.

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You can read more about the evolution of the project on the Form and Reform site.
And dont forget to donate!

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Desks with complex inlay complete!

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Stage 1 of the 'Hot Sharp Toxic' room. This swiveling desk is the first stage of a larger project to turn a room in a private residence into a splendid mad science lair. More pictures here and on Flickr.

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Check out our build video, where we show off the process we used to make these fantastically inlayed desks!

Business shouldn't waste money on their offices

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So with our recent press, a common comment came up that goes something like this:

"Business shouldn't waste money on their offices".

To which we couldn't agree more. Businesses need spaces that work. More than that, they also need spaces that support their vision and agenda.

But at the same time, businesses need to keep things reasonable, and not spend money they don't really need to.

Now, you may think that some of our more creative offices we've done for companies are more folly than functional. However, let's take a closer look at one of our past projects: the offices of Three Rings.

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Three Rings is a small creative game design studio. They live (and die) off of how good their people are. Unlike a big game company like EA, with armies of people, Three Rings is tiny, tight, and very talented. So one of the primary concerns with their office was to make it a place where their talent would love to work, and to make it a place other talented people would love to work at. This not only draws in talented people, but it makes them perform at their best.

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Three Rings also really wanted to create a real place. Instead of an office people dreaded to be at, they wanted a place where everyone was happy to be. Since the new office was completed, it's not uncommon for everyone to spend a lot more time at the office, even if it's just playing games into the evening. Better teams, better relationships, and better communication all come from happier people spending time together.

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Another big concern was expression of vision. Instead of looking like every other game company with their seas of Ikea desks and dismal offices, Three Rings wanted to wear their hearts on their sleeves; to say loudly that they are a creative company like no other. Many talk about being innovative, yet few really follow through with that. Clearly communicating that is a key part of their marketing.

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Finally, Three Rings wanted a clear way to express their vision of being a small yet terribly creative company to other companies and investors. They knew that any potential employee or VC that walked in the door and was scared off at how over-the-top the office is would very likely be someone that they wouldn't want to work with. By clearly showing their vision it's much easier for them to find other people who may share that vision and want to help make it bigger and better.

Study after study shows that a better office makes for more productive and happier people. And having an office that matches your company's vision is a vital part of marketing and communicating what your company is all about.

More productive people + happy workers + clear communication + vision = more money being made.

Or, you could look at it this way too:

Inefficient people + unhappy people + muddled marketing + no vision = bad business.

When you add into the fact that due to our special process and talented people here at Because We Can the cost of the Three Rings office was totally reasonable.

We were able to design and build the whole Three Rings office for less than it would have cost of nice-but-depressing office cubes.

Sure, it costs more than just parking everyone at an Ikea desk, but just think: that boring-but-normal office that's not much more than cubes, a break room, and maybe a ping-pong table could instead be a vibrant expression of your company's core. While also making everyone there more productive and happier. And making everyone more money!

So we agree: businesses shouldn't waste their money. Which is something a boring, poorly designed office actually does.

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