The goal of the Materials Lab is to provide an environment for students to explore new materials, procedures, and methods to enhance their learning experience here at NSAD. We strongly feel that through didactic engagement in the build process, students gain an understanding of the design process that extends beyond capabilities of the classroom or the studio. The exploration, engagement, and problem-solving skills developed in the Materials Lab give our students vital tools that will carry them through whatever chosen avenues students explore post-graduation.
Materials Lab director Erik Luhtala says, “A good program requires both a profound library and profound shop for students to fabricate their ideas. The shop is sometimes a place where their thoughts are prototyped and tested—and where they sometimes fail. That’s because it’s a pedagogical tool for the students.
Examples of the projects that students might produce in the shop include:
- Making representations of their designs.
- Fabricating a steel truss to see if it actually works the way it was projected to.
- Using a 3D printer to prototype a functional plastic product design, such as a new iPhone design.
- Building real, functional furniture that was focused on during the furniture design curriculum.
NSAD also teaches an in-shop class, Digital Fabrication. This course explores how and, more importantly, why to use the digital fabrication tools in architecture and design projects.
Some of the most interesting things produced in the shop include:
- A thesis project by a former student who is now the shop’s assistant manager. “It was called ‘Flex’ and it talked about flexible kinematic structures that required a lot of understanding of movable arms and joints and paneling, and he was required to fabricate a lot of it,” Luhtala says. Through his research process, he bolstered the staff’s understanding of the metal side of the shop.
- Several wood-based items, including furniture that showed extremely high-end wood working. There also have been iPad cases built out of solid Zebrano wood.
- The PeriScope Project, for which several faculty members and a handful of students worked together to adaptively re-use 5 oceanic cargo containers. The materials for the project were pre-fabricated in the shop and then assembled using tools from the shop on undeveloped parcels of land in downtown San Diego. Currently, the former containers are being used as low cost studio space for emerging artists and designers.