MADWORKSHOP supports a new generation of craftsmanship

School News

MADWORKSHOP supports a new generation of craftsmanship

March 05, 2015

At the 2014 AIA-LA Design Awards, faculty and USC Architectural Guild member, David C. Martin, FAIA, was honored, along with his brother, Christopher C. Martin, FAIA, with the Gold Medal for a lifetime of achievement and contributions to architecture in Los Angeles. During his acceptance speech, he hinted that something big was coming, something close to his heart.


That something is the Martin Architecture and Design Workshop (MADWORKSHOP), a foundation dedicated to catalyzing technological craftsmanship in the digital age, making beautiful, artful, and relevant things that connect with the larger culture. The official website just launched this January.  


The brainchild of Martin and his wife, Mary, MADWORKSHOP took its original inspiration from a furniture design class Martin led at the School in 2005. The origin of that class goes back to when Martin and his wife were working on a project with French designer Andree Putman, whom he describes as the “high priestess of interior design.” 


“She started pulling out books on 1920s and ‘30s furniture design and this got me thinking about designing and making my own furniture,” says Martin. He then converted his machine shop—he has a passion for working on custom cars—into a furniture shop. When the then-dean, Robert Timme, FAIA, saw the shop, he told Martin he should do a studio on furniture design. “It really caught on,” says Martin. “Students who had grown up on computers were longing to make things, to connect with materials.”


In the spring of 2014, Martin and R. Scott Mitchell, lecturer in digital fabrication and design and a MADWORKSHOP board member, launched a class to design and fabricate a site-specific pedestrian bridge to span a 75-foot arroyo on Martin’s property. The challenge was to create a functional bridge that would also blend in with and reference its surroundings. The students devised a layered branching strategy to integrate structural members, taking cues from trees found on the site. Students constructed full-scale detail mock-ups and several large-scale models, one being ten-feet long. They utilized high-tech 3D measuring tools and satellite imaging to precisely locate the bridge. They also worked with steel fabricators to devise a construction system that could be easily produced, categorized, transported, and re-assembled on site.


In essence, this was the first MADWORKSHOP-sponsored studio and the prototype for the foundation. This mission of inspiring craftsmanship through hands-on, real world experience with materials and technology became the basis for MADWORKSHOP.


In the fall of 2014, the furniture class looked at collapsible furniture. One student, Yuan Yao, an undergraduate who will graduate this May, became the first USC student to receive a MADWORKSHOP grant. The grant, worth $5000, enabled Yao to refine his design and produce a prototype for what is now called the Origami Lightweight Foldable Chair. The chair was also Yao’s final assignment for the spring 2014 furniture class. “With the help of the grant, I was able to experiment with different materials more freely and develop the newest prototype, which solved mechanical problems in the original design,” says Yao.


Two other USC students have also received grants: Shihyung “Bobby” Kim for his Smart Table Lamp and Behnaz Farahi for her 3D-Printed “Wearable Architecture.”


Farahi, who completed her post professional degree in architecture in 2013 and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Arts and Practices (iMAP) at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, says her proposal looks at how 3D printing can be applied in relation to the body. “The aim is to design a wearable fashion item that exploits the full potential of this technology,” she says. Farahi will conduct her research in summer 2015.


In addition to supporting individual students, the foundation has given a grant of $50,000 to support robotic research at the School for the 2014-2015 school year. “The foundation is a catalyst, helping to lay the groundwork for the School of Architecture’s move into robotics and helping to give our students the critical edge with digital tools,” says Qingyun Ma, dean of the School of Architecture, and also a MADWORKSHOP board member.


With the robotics grant, Mitchell will lead research seminars focused on developing new robotic techniques in architectural fabrication. The seminars will utilize the School’s new six-axis KUKA robotic arms. “This grant enables us to take steps that will make the robots more integral to the curriculum,” says Mitchell. “A big part of this is setting them up to work efficiently and flexibly in the shop environment,” he adds. In the research seminars, students have been working with Mitchell to develop different tooling elements for the robots. “This is about making the tools you need to bridge the gap between the conceptual and the physical,” says Mitchell.


“Engaging the cutting edge of technology to explore fabrication is central to the calling of an architect, yet advances the discipline through the very undertaking of the question,” says Gail Peter Borden, discipline head of architecture and director of graduate architecture. “This partnership allows student engagement in ‘big thinking’ and allows us to propel the discipline and the next generation with greater tools and greater expectations in the development of design,” he adds.


As for the future, the foundation will continue to support initiatives aligned with its mission of pursuing craft, technology, and making at the USC School of Architecture.