HiLo Lab takes on the 2x4

Nov 14, 2018

Students share their work on the zippered wood project

HiLo Lab is an academic research lab led by Associate Professor Blair Satterfield that uses high-tech equipment and software to generate work that can be produced through low-tech and low-impact means - effectively working high and low.

Over the summer, SALA students Derek Mavis and Alex Preiss conducted research with the lab, funded through various sources including a SEEDS grant. Their research explored the possibilities of upcycling waste wood; specifically, the readily-accessible and familiar 2x4. After much iteration and research, “Zippered wood” is their proposal to strategically modify 2x4s with specifically designed and cut geometries, and mate them with corresponding boards to generate a bent form - turning short lengths of waste wood into long, curved posts and beams.

The work continues a kind of logic explored previously in by lab, specifically parallel investigations in thermoforming recycled plastic sheets and 3D printing wood waste. The work collectively hopes to de-stigmatize material waste. Rather, HiLo's research uses waste as a useful and beautiful raw material, and builds with it using sophisticated software, tools, and techniques.

The following interview reveals some of their insights working with the lab and on the “Zippered wood” project.

What was your background before SALA?

Derek Mavis: Academically, my background is in Arts and Ancient history, but I also had outside interests in construction, carpentry, and manufacturing - which was what drew me to architecture, design, and then more to this lab, doing materials research and design fabrication.

Alex Preiss: I did my undergrad in architecture, and so coming to SALA has been a chance to express a little further the skill set that I already had. What drew me to architecture in the beginning was that it is a mix of the visual arts, science, and mathematics. The design culture is what kept me going and what I fell in love with when I came here. And so, when Blair approached me for the research position this summer, it hit all the boxes - materials research, digital fabrication, upcycling of materials, intelligent assemblies…

Could you speak more about what drew you specifically to this research?

DM: In general, I was drawn to the work because it was materials research and an opportunity to actually make something with it; I could design something and fabricate it using just the digital tools available to us - specifically, using Rhino and Grasshopper. Also, since I came into the project at a stage when I could test things out, I saw it as an opportunity to find out what I liked and didn’t like.

AP: The opportunity to focus, for four months, very intensely on one subject matter - and one that I was very interested in - scripting, intelligent assemblies… methods of manufacturing that have been around for 10 years but in my experience are still up-and-coming, and so to be able to dedicate some focus to that, and get paid, was a big deal.

Where is this research going?

AP: A big goal is to build a pavillion close to the school that's human scale and does a few architectural things to demonstrate that this stuff is not just theoretical but a viable construction method.

More on P.O.P Houses

Where is the research going for yourself, in your own work?

AP: For my [graduation project], it’s definitely having a big impact. Right now I’m trying to build a critical response around why you should use computation, or where it is advantageous for you to use computation. I think some of the materials research we are doing may come back in further iterations of my thesis later on in the year. And not just HiLo Lab, but SALA in general has given me a lot of opportunity to engage with this kind of work - I know in AnnaLisa [Meyboom]’s studio, they’ve brought in a timber fabrication workshop… and all of these different things have all kind of coalesced into a bigger understanding of how and when to use these tools, what these tools can do and not do.

DM: I still have some time to experiment, but the research is starting to already inform what my thoughts would be for my own thesis project. It's also helping me think more about the tools associated with manufacturing, what their limitations are, and how we can bypass them. It has also internally helped inform my design thinking - my criticality in my design process.

How can we find out more?

AP, DM: Follow HiLo on instagram! Check out the HiLo blog page, and read our publication when it comes out!


Project collaborators: Derek Mavis, Alex Preiss, Graham Entwistle, Blair Satterfield

The HiLo Lab is directed by Associate Professor Blair Satterfield.