Glass II

Andy Ryan

Optically transparent and structurally sound, glass has played a significant role in the evolution of product and architectural design across scales and disciplines, and throughout the ages. Glass processing methods—such as blowing, pressing, and forming—have aimed at achieving increased glass performance and functionality. Nonetheless, techniques and technologies enabling controlled tunability of its optical and mechanical properties at high spatial manufacturing resolution have remained an end without a means.

We present G3DP2: a high-fidelity, large-scale, additive manufacturing technology for 3D printing optically transparent glass structures at architectural dimensions. This enabling technology builds upon previous efforts led by the Mediated Matter group—through G3DP2—to 3D print optically transparent glass for product scale applications. G3DP2 transcends its predecessor by restructuring the machine’s architecture and process control operations as informed by material properties and behaviors of silicate glass to 3D print building components with tunable and predictable mechanical and optical properties.

This new manufacturing platform includes a digitally integrated thermal control system—to accompany the various stages of glass forming—as well as a novel four-axis motion-control system permitting flow control, spatial accuracy and precision, and faster production rates with continuous deposition of up to 30kg of molten glass.

The Installation

To demonstrate GLASS II’s capabilities, the Mediated Matter group presents an installation for Milan Design Week debuting at the Milan Triennale on April 4, 2017.

The installation is comprised of a series of 3m-tall glass columns fully manufactured with the GLASS 2 platform. Each column’s unique and constantly changing surface is the result of continuous branching into multiple lobes to support its load. For each, a unique network of radial arrays made of arcs; to each, a unique caustic footprint corresponding with its mechanical properties. Given their geometric complexity and dynamic optical properties, the columns act as architecturally scaled lenses that can concentrate or disperse light from within and/or outside the glass surface.

The computational framework used to generate each column’s form is directly influenced by the constraints of the manufacturing platform and structural system, demonstrating the ability to 3D print a wide range of shapes determined by desired mechanical and optical properties. By example, the higher the load, the greater the surface area of a column in plan view, the greater the number of lobes desired, the tighter the turning radius required for their 3D printing, and hence contributing to the geometric expression of the caustics. Each column is fitted with a dynamic internal lighting system—una stellina—programed to travel up and down the column generating a large caustic footprint with kaleidoscope-like patterns. The caustics are the sums of light rays reflected and/or refracted dynamically by the curved surface of the printed column over the surrounding walls of the Trienniale. Over space, each successive column introduces a more complex caustic envelope with accompanied—and subtle—shifts in sound frequencies. Over time, each column’s light position and intensity varies, resulting in changes to the surface area, sharpness, and intensity of the caustic patterns. Combined, the overall experience challenges the perceived boundaries between time and space.

Two dark-mirrored surfaces are mounted on the facing end walls defining the space, reflecting the row of columns and creating the illusion of an infinite array of "light totems" fading into darkness...a starry night of "cosmic caustics."


Project Team
Chikara Inamura (project lead), Michael Stern, Daniel Lizardo, Tal Achituv, Tomer Weller, Owen Trueblood, Nassia Inglessis, Giorgia Franchin, Kelly Donovan, Peter Houk (project adviser), Prof. Neri Oxman (project and group director).

Project Associates
Andrea Magdanz, Susan Shapiro, David J. Benyosef, Mary Ann Babula, Forrest Whitcher, Robert Philips, Neils La White, Paula Aguilera, Jonathan Williams, Andy Ryan, Jeremy Flower.

Project Collaborators
The GLASS II installation was created by the Mediated Matter group, MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Lexus for 2017 Lexus Design Awards YET Show at the Salone del Mobile, Milan, Italy. Additional collaborators include: Pentagram, Simson Gumpertz & Heger, Front Inc., MIT Central Machine Shop, Almost Perfect Glass (AKA APG).