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Adding Matter

Learning how architects and fabricators can rework traditional Japanese joinery for new types of physical structures, through computational design and systems of aggregation.


15 Week UVA Architecture Research Studio (2019)
Role: Architectural Designer
Team: Andrew Spears (Fabrication) and Sarah Miller (Fabrication)


Featured in Publication: Matter Aggregation


Learning about traditional Japanese joinery

Before applying computational design, a basic understanding of various typologies of joints was needed, with research focusing on how 4 different joints were built.

Working with Grasshopper, a node-based plugin

These joints were then recreated and prepped for stochastic aggregation in Grasshopper, a plugin for Rhino 3D

Creating generative structures

Algorithmically creating stochastic structures

Taking the basic traditional Japanese joinery, iterations on foundational aggregations could be generated to give a sense of how these joints can come together.

Choosing a Joint

After testing and iterating, the process of refining traditional joinery began, simplifying traditional joints for smoother computation

Applying learnings to a test site

Molding abstract shapes to an actual environment

Diagramming and understanding Shanghai Art Park

Stress testing for load bearing optimization

Taking the base geometry of the building, generated through site analysis, and applying aggregation through the Ameba Plugin.

Making it real

Creating high fidelity renderings & constructing joints to scale

Architectural renderings of the actual building, as well as prototyped at two different scales.


Traditional ways of fabrication can truly become more sustainable with modern technology.

Natural materials are unpredictable, and of course computational design can only solve so much. However, the history behind Japanese joinery and the intersection between joinery and modern computation offered a new framework for a flexible system that could begin to look at how we can more efficiently use and build with limited resources and materials.

As a look into a completely new typology of architectural thinking, it was a breath of fresh air to look at building practices beyond traditional BIM systems. While a lot of the proposed designs are probably unrealistic, it's a valuable thought starter nonetheless.

To learn more, this case study sits within greater research that was published in the book Matter Aggregation, available on Amazon.