The exhibit hall of this year’s ArchitectureBoston Expo, held from November 15 through 17, will have a special guest star. Among the rows of booths run by various building products and services, visitors will find a pavilion designed and constructed by the Boston Society of Architects’ new MakeTANK committee – a group dedicated to reconnecting architecture with fabrication. This group, only 5 months old, is the idea of architect Brad Prestbo of Sasaki Associates, and fabrication expert Ryan Salvas, now of Skanska. Prestbo and Salvas met several years before at a Facades+ conference, where Salvas was moderating a panel about façade construction. Over the next few years, the two would collaborate in various ways, including on the Cleveland Museum of Art, designed by Sasaki with fabrication assistance from CW Keller, the New Hampshire furniture maker where Salvas was Design Director.

As a firm, Sasaki had been pushing its own exploration into fabrication at the encouragement of Partner Pablo Savid-Buteler, and Prestbo wanted to find another outlet for that energy and excitement. The Boston Society of Architects (BSA), the city’s AIA chapter, was a good opportunity for that. In March of 2016, Pretsbo and Salvas pitched the idea for MakeTANK to the BSA, and it was soon approved by the BSA’s board. In order for the committee to continue, though, the BSA required that at least 10 people attend the groups launch event to prove that there was viable interest. Over 50 showed up – Architects, Engineers, Fabricators, and professionals of all experience levels.

Soon after the group’s inception, Connor McDonald of the BSA asked if MakeTANK would be interested in a space on the exhibition floor of the annual ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX) in November of 2016. Though the deadline was tight, the founders were excited about the opportunity and ambitiously took on McDonald’s challenge. Ever since, the committee has been working on the design of an exhibition pavilion as a means to experiment with fabrication techniques and test new ideas. Now three months old, MakeTank has a solid roster of approximately 20 members who meet regularly to develop concepts and test ideas. With meetings hosted at the BSA itself, as well as at the offices of some of its members, (SMMA, Sasaki, Jaywalk Studio), the group has worked collaboratively to develop a design scheme for the pavilion, tested the various fabrication methods they wished to explore, and designed its own graphical identity.

Credit: Filipe Francisco
Credit: Filipe Francisco

For Pretsbo and Salvas, the open and collaborative nature of the group is extremely important. Team members work together to tackle each problem and the group votes on accepting all design decisions. They’ve made great use of online tools, such as Google Groups, to stay connected and share progress as it happens. The founders stress that MakeTANK is a place where its members feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table. After all, they note, the value of a group like this is the ability to experiment and fail outside of the constraints of professional practices. Failures are welcomed and recognized as attempts to try something new.

As soon as the pavilion concept solidified, the group moved into prototyping the structure itself. In a collaborative efforts across offices, the group designed, CNC milled, 3d printed, molded, and assembled a series of ‘nodes,’ the key structural element of their pavilion design. They tested numerous iterations for flexibility, strength, and constructability, always keeping design intent in mind. For MakeTANK, the pavilion needs to do more than just stand – it also needs to teach its visitors about how it was constructed.

As the November deadline looms, the group has been pushing progress at a rapid clip. At Jaywalk Studio, a design and fabrication firm whose partners are active members of MakeTank, the group assembled mock-ups of various scales, and consulted with a structural engineer for additional input. A subcommittee is focusing on the design of visitor seating for the pavilion. ‘Mood Swing’ is a portable rocking stool drawing inspiration from the spring-lock connection that will join pavilion elements to one another. When visitors come to the pavilion for one of the various presentations it will host, they will have the chance to use the seats, and see firsthand how the group is experimenting with design at different scales. A second subcommittee is exploring the use of sensors and kinetic elements to create a more interactive experience for visitors.

In the immediate future, the group is focused on getting all the parts and pieces of the pavilion fabricated and ready for on-site construction at the convention. Materials have been donated from supporting companies such as CW Keller, with resources from Sasaki Associates, Shepley Bulfinch, and Jaywalk Studio playing key roles in production as well. Already the group is thinking about what comes after ABX. They have been asked to expand their scope at ABX to include reading areas for ArchitectureBoston Magazine, the publication of the Boston Society of Architects. Sights are set toward adapting the pavilion design for installation at other exhibitions of the future.

The Neue Guild looks forward to seeing all the planning and work that has gone into this project come to fruition in November. Stay tuned for an update to this article, where we’ll explore the pavilion’s fabrication and see the project through to its grand opening at ABX in November.

Participating MakeTANK members: Piper Ainsley, Gabriela Baierle-Atwood, Carolyn Brown, Yueying Cui, Ryan Collier, Dina El-Zanfaly, Luis Fernando, Felipe Francisco, Lauren Günther, Chris Hardy, Janna Kauss, Michael Kyes, Steve Listwon, Kyle Martin, Patrick Murray, Jay Nothoff, Gustavo Pardo, Adam Parsons, Brad Prestbo, Eric Reinhard, Lilit Revazian, Ryan Salvas, Ruben Sannen, Haik Tokatlyan, Chris Winkler.

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