The World is Flat is a class offered by the University of Virginia (UVa) School of Architecture. This hands-on fabrication seminar introduces students to digital fabrication and is taught by Melissa Goldman, the architecture school’s manager of fabrication facilities.
But the world, and the buildings on it, aren’t flat. So why the name The World is Flat?
“Students who are learning design and construction techniques for spaces and structures usually deal with components that are initially flat, such as boards, sheet metal, panes of glass, and so on. These materials then have to be cut, milled, folded, nailed, welded, and bolted to build a building,” says Goldman. “To help push the boundaries of construction, this class encourages students to think differently about construction—exploring and experimenting with materials and fabrication techniques that can more efficiently turn flat things into real three-dimensional products.” But in a semester-long class, the type of product they can actually produce is limited.
Which is where shoe fabrication comes in.
Every semester, the course has a different fabrication focus—from subassemblies that fold flat to advanced CNC milling techniques. The focus of the course this spring was 3D printing. In the first half of the semester, the students split up into different groups to design and fabricate a real three-dimensional product: custom-fitted, 3D printed shoes, created with the help of Reality Computing.
Compute -- With Autodesk Fusion 360 software, the students used the model of that student’s foot to design a custom-fitted shoe around it—a shoe that could be 3D printed.
Create -- Iterations of the shoe design were printed for experimentation and testing on various types of 3D printers, some belonging to UVa and some in the manufacturing facility of a local shoe company: OESH Shoes. Goldman’s students were able to use OESH’s printers to prototype their designs beyond the capabilities of the 3D printers in Goldman’s facility—working with multi-material printers to explore and test how material selection and design choices influenced the flexibility and durability of their shoes.
|OESH Shoes was founded by Dr. Casey Kerrigan, a UVA professor turned shoemaker. Kerrigan is a Harvard Medical School graduate known for her research on gait (walking and running) and the effects of footwear. At UVa, she was a professor and chair of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation. She left UVa in 2011 to found OESH, which is focused on designing and manufacturing healthy shoes. OESH has been actively researching and fabricating specialized 3D printers for their production process.|
Approximately 60 percent of Goldman's class are architecture students. In addition, the class includes students from different fields of study throughout UVa—teaming (for example) mechanical engineers who may one day design 3D printers, material scientists who will be investigating new materials for 3D printing, and designers who will be the end users of 3D printers. And while the student groups worked on their printed shoe projects, each student also pursued an individualized track, such as a biomedical engineering student exploring how 3D printing can be used for prosthetics, a material science student working in a UVa/Virginia Department of Transportation research lab investigating 3D printing of concrete, and an architecture student who wanted to make custom-sized orthotic inserts for her sandals and flip flops!
“Most people think of 3D printing as a 2D process of flat layers that are built up during the printing process...but it doesn’t have to be," says Goldman. "We challenge our students to think about how new technology and materials can change that archetype—using 6-axis robots to extrude concrete for example, or layering multiple materials that react together for increased strength, flexibility, or biodegradability. Our collaborative, cross-discipline approach helps students explore how digital fabrication techniques can be used in a variety of ways by a variety of industries—not just construction, and not just for prototyping. I hope that our class, and the future industry practitioners it is producing, is playing a part in advancing 3D printing technology.”
Click here for an article by Sarah Karpinski at OESH Shoes about their collaboration with Goldman’s class. And click here to see a video of Goldman’s students modeling their first try at 3D printed shoes!