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FOAMUTATION - Aluminum Foam Live-in Factory

Part 1 Project 2009
Lik Hang Gu
University of Hong Kong, China
Situated in Dongguan of China, the site is to develop an urban live-in factory that accommodates working, living and amenity facilities. Dongguan, of which the city development is driven by the rapid economy of industrial production, has accumulated
a tremendous amount of factories and yet, they are merely operations on their own and cease to contribute to the city. This project seeks to reinterpret the role of factory in city.

Architecture is interpreted as a foaming catalyst of this live-in factory. Driven by the production process of Aluminum foam and its microscopic organization principles, the factory is mutated to adapt to its architectural requirements. Organization, program, structure and space seek to form a coherent logic which at the end, benefits the factory itself as a living and working place as well as strengthening its surrounding urban fabric. It is a factory that invites engagement, not only for workers but also the outsiders and therefore the city. This bottom up strategy of design facilitates architecture and urban mutation as inherited in its structural organization.

Lik Hang Gu

“Urban Landscape and the Live-In Factory” is the theme of this year’s final design studio. It engages China’s ascension as a world manufacturing center with the reality of migrant workers and new technology that has powered this phenomenon. The given site is situated in the manufacturing town of Donguan - on a tributary in the Pearl River Delta.

Aluminum foam is the chosen product manufactured by the factory. As a new material, metallic foam gives stiffness to a closed cell structure while allowing for large deformations. This ultra-light material is used for sound and shock absorptions.

From the onset, the performance driven manufacturing process was organized into its component elements. Using scripting, data based on proximities and function was used to analyze and propose alternatives to assembly-line configurations. A structural-skin was envisioned over these linear assemblies. Metal foam and its structural cellular unit were studied. Voronoi tessellations were used as a vehicle for exploration when configuring the outer shell and skin of the factory. Exploration into the deformations of the cell unit, based on efficiencies of the structure, created a series of models. These were either hand-tooled or processed by 3D printers. A similar process was used in the design of the dormitories. Here the skeletal connection of the voronoi was expanded to house living units. These units were arranged around cellular voids which act as green foci for the quarters. The spatial manifestation of these arrangements is true to the concept of voronoi, its product metal foam, and visa versa.

Further refinements of the project were based on issues identified in previous site/urban/social analysis. This resulted in the landscape becoming a complementary component of the factory and dormitories. It is also the persuasive social connector that links the new factory with the patterns of the existing village and fish-ponds. The final design is exemplary in its clarity and combines complex spatial priorities with its performance driven core. The new factory challenges the existing live-in factory typology and engages in issues that are forming the new reality of China.

Ms Detra T. M. Cheung
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