An array of 66 baffles, some as long as 31 feet, have transformed the ceiling of Lawrence Tech’s John and Betty Chanik Admissions Welcome Center into a work of art that is designed to diffuse the sometimes overpowering natural light. Nicknamed, “the cloud,” the series of vertical baffles diffuses sunlight making the room more comfortable for people who no longer sit in direct sunlight, and images on a projection screen are easier to see.
The project is a dramatic demonstration of the capabilities of the makeLab, which was established in 2010 by the College of Architecture and Design under the leadership of Assistant Professor Jim Stevens to give students and faculty access to digital fabrication.
Pandush Gaqi and Steve Kroodsma, two 2010 architecture graduates, spent seven months on the project that has saved the University thousands of dollars while providing the makeLab with a new CNC machine that was needed for a project of this size.
University Architect Joseph Veryser, BSAr’76, turned the project over to Gaqi and Kroodsma when a professional design firm had trouble coming up with a workable solution and outside contractors charging at least $15,000. The project ended up costing $7,000.
The makeLab team was faced with the challenge of devising a solution that would be compatible with the existing lighting fixtures and fire-suppression sprinkler system. The team had to devise a way to block the sunlight with non-flammable, easy-to-clean materials that wouldn’t collect dust. They employed software programs to simulate the sun’s effect inside the room throughout the year, and then used the resulting data to design the baffles.
Gaqi and Kroodsma and their makeLab collaborators, students Natalie Haddad and Kyle Van Klompenberg, realized that the existing CNC cutting table wasn’t big enough to cut the long baffles efficiently. Each of them donated $1,400 for parts and built a much bigger cutting table with a vacuum function capable of holding the low-density fiberboard pieces in place to be cut.
“This was about learning and speeding up the process for future projects,” said Gaqi.
Gaqi and Kroodsma said they couldn’t have accomplished the project without support from Stevens, Associate Dean Ralph Nelson, and the Coleman Foundation. “It’s funny what you can accomplish when they give you freedom,” Gaqi said.