BRAC University Vice Chancellor, Professor Syed Saad Andaleeb, inaugurated the Department of Architecture’s Fabrication Laboratory, widely known as Fab Lab, on May 22, 2017. Professor Adnan Z. Morshed, Chairperson of the Department of Architecture, Dr. Gauranga Chandra Mohanta, Project Director, Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP), and Dr. Mokhlesur Rahman, Senior Operations Officer, Education, Human Development Unit at the World Bank, were present during the inaugural ceremony. The founding members of the facility, professors Mohammad Faruk, Abul Fazal Mahmudun Nobi, and Sheikh Rubaiya Sultana, along with Riffat Farjana Sanchari (Assistant Project Coordination Officer), offered a guided tour of the newly minted high-tech facility. This is a milestone event in architectural education in Bangladesh – the first Fab Lab as part of an architectural education in the country! BRACU Architecture is proud to pioneer this effort and open a new frontier in architectural pedagogy, innovation, and research.
The idea of the Fab Lab emerged from a research programme at the Center for Bits and Atoms, an interdisciplinary initiative undertaken around 2001 at MIT. MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms was created to explore the boundary between computer science and physical science. The goal was to find ways to transform data into things and things into data.
Modern day research and computation is heading fundamentally towards the development of digital fabrication processes in which programs don't just describe things, they are things. Just like the earlier digital revolutions, the digitization of fabrication enables its personalization, allowing anyone to create (almost) anything, anywhere in the world. Very often digital fabrication takes place at the Fabrication Laboratories, where digital fabrication is aided with facilities to build accurate physical prototypical models of computer generated designs.
In the field of architecture, the Fab Lab in itself is a technological innovation where design can be generated with prototypical model; where new ideas can be cultivated; a worldwide network of sharing can be created; and a magnitude of different innovative technologies can be applied. This will take our community sharing of ideas to another level. In addition, the emerging science of digital fabrication is bringing the program-ability of the digital world of bits to the physical world of atoms. A Fabrication Lab for Architectural students can bring together researchers studying the programmed assembly of functional structures, ranging from nano-scale cells to micro scale micro-fluidics-blocks to macro scale buildings, along with counterparts investigating the global implications and local consequences of the digitization and personalization of fabrication. A Fab Lab can thus become a place where architecture students can develop a sense of scale with the help of technology.
In keeping up with the probable benefits that a resource centre such as a Fabrication Lab can prove to be, for designers, especially students of art and architecture, the Department of Architecture of BRAC University has initiated the first ever pilot Fab-Lab in Bangladesh at its premises in Mohakhali. With a modest budget of BDTK 63.6 Lac, the project is almost complete as a Sub project of the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP), a project of University Grants Commission (UGC), Ministry of Education, Bangladesh and funded by the World Bank.
In this Fabrication Lab the Department of Architecture of BRACU will primarily be working with computer controlled laser cutter, 3D printer, 3D scanner and a 5 axis CNC Router. All the four equipments, together will partake in the model making process.
[Computer generated 3D model of the Fab Lab of the Department of Architecture, BRAC University]
[Fab Lab Equipments already purchased for the Department of Architecture of BRAC University: 3D Scanner, 5 Axis CNC cutter, Laser Cutter, 3D Printer (Clockwise)]
- Of these different hardware in the Fab Lab, the 3D printer is the most advanced desktop 3D printer. At the heart of the machine is a powerful optical engine: a 250mW precision laser, guided by custom-built galvanometers, delivering big prints with spectacular detail, laser-sharp prints with stunning surface finish, new peel mechanism and heated resin tank to create a reliable print process for both large, solid parts and small intricate details.
- Another component of the Fab Lab, the 3D Scanner, in other words "Think Outside, Build Inside" has a one-touch automated cutting-edge 3D scanning technology. It includes features such as: swiping laser scanning, automated calibration process, point-cloud cleaning, scan data repair, and auto-conversion into printable STL file. In addition, there is the simple mid-print pause feature for color printing with composite materials such as metal powder, wood fiber, and conductive materials.
- Then there is the 5 Axis CNC router that combines multi-fabrication methods - unlike a typical desktop machine which either uses only plastic or is severely limited by geometry, or is too small to make useful prototypes. It will provide a platform that gives students an unprecedented versatility compared to 3 axis platforms of readily available 3d printers and desktop CNC mills. Plus, a student can attach a 3d printing head to the router and start printing objects in minutes, or use a touch probe to scan physical objects into 3d models. And since these are all real world fabrication techniques, absolutely anyone can prototype fabrication process by themselves and can be in control of process affecting their design.
- The Laser Cutter offers a broad range of laser systems for efficient high-precision cutting & engravings of many products and materials. The laser cutter at our Fab lab is a CO2 laser system which although is designed with the hobbyist and tinkerer in mind, but it still delivers professional level results. The machine is capable of cutting and engraving a variety of materials with unparalleled ease of use.
When discussing the implications of establishing fabrication labs pertaining to digital fabrication, especially in the case of education in Arts and Architecture there are both pros and cons that must be looked at. With the global trend of students leaning towards complex spatial designs and parametric solutions, and the introduction of fundamentally digital processes in terms of 3D visual representations, etc. - the presence of a fabrication lab would allow for physical prototypical models enabling students to build reliably with unreliable materials by coding their construction from discrete components. Simultaneously, they will be able to build their sense of scales from molecules to buildings by the virtue of digitization and personalization of fabrication. In addition, such labs would promise unprecedented manufacturing flexibility, functionality, complexity, and reusability of materials in the long run in the field of Art and Architecture.
[Students of the Department of Architecture at a model making workshop]
Among the cons, the primary would possibly be the initial cost of setting up. Added to this will also be the sudden transfer from analogous design and building methodology of students to digital fabrication, which will require acclimatization to the new hardware to a certain degree and will have initial inaccurate results due to lack of expertise. Similarly, consistent efforts will have to be given to train personnel for running the expensive hardware existent in such digital fabrication labs.
Having reviewed both the benefits and the ill-fits of establishing Fabrication Labs in our context, it must be admitted at this point that the world market is becoming quite a competitive place with massive advancement of technologies and a global movement towards prefabrication process—be it furniture design or medical prosthetic design or a complete buildable housing. And so the establishment of such a fabrication centre as this can be a stepping stone towards that kind of a global progress.
On an additional note regarding future expectations from a Fab Lab at BRACU, of course there is every possibility of it flourishing. Art and Architecture are not so different from each other, and in every aspect of life in and around architecture, aesthetics play a crucial role. In time it is expected that students will be encouraged subjects such as film making of moving objects and develop individual skills in moving-image communications or learn the aesthetic principles that govern art. And in doing so they can create live-action production, scripts, 2D, 3D or even unique stop motion animations. Following such trends, courses such as Film and Animation focusing on advanced 3D modeling, lighting, texturing, and animating in a 3D space can be introduced in the Department of Architecture at BRAC University to help develop this kind of interest and produce imaginative, trend setting work. For such courses, Fabrication labs will play a vital role in model making of spaces with aesthetic value. Thus we are expectant that this initial step of setting up the first fabrication lab will lead to a greater success in the field of Art, Architecture and Animation in BRAC University in the long run.