a way to reveal: transforming the known, (DE)familiarizing the familiar.

Laser Cutter - patterns and transformation
Explorations - flat-pack Furniture
a way to reveal
less familiar
The Joint or The Hinge
Scale & Module
New tools & Materiality
With Nature
Explorations - fabric & formwork

Primary Author

  • Matthew Medley


  • University of Detroit Mercy


  • Noah Resnick (Associate Professor Director, Master of Architecture Program)


  • Will Wittig


Beginning with case studies on industrial forms and precedent studies on Japanese woodworking and digital fabrication, this thesis ruminates on myriad opportunities to make the fixed fluid. Incorporating research and theory into an extended exploration of materiality and making, this study illuminates the creative process and shows learning done through play, prototyping, extension and production. Although it was not possible to capture every iteration, it captures the processes followed, the tools used, the ideas awakened and the lessons learned. The focus of the thesis became the question of a joint versus a hinge, through an examination of the kerf, which is a small slice or notch that can transform the movement of material. Traditionally used to create a temporary hinge, before being fixed, this work looked a means for keeping the dynamic, moving element. In the case studies and initial deconstruction, many possibilities were examined, but main conclusion was that treating problems with multiple potential solutions is critical and requires openness to multiple "right answers". The work shows the progression in approach, ideas and outputs that derive from the central big questions in this thesis: can the integration of 21st century craft into the use of new technologies allow a transformation of various materials and an exploration of an open set of potential solutions to modern design problems.

Project Statement

The exploration of materiality is a key part of this research, viewed from multiple perspectives. A Peter Zumthor wrote in his essay “A Way of Looking at Things,” materials play a role in creation of an architectural atmosphere. He describes the material quality of the work of another artist as "precise and sensuous" which illuminates why materials help to shape our experience of a space. Zumthor says that "materials themselves are not poetic," but that they can gather meaning and power. This work strived to create that same rich, layered experience, which is full of mystery or wonder, in the spaces and forms created, while reflecting how materials that fill them add a certain tangibility, acoustic quality or other specific meaning. This thesis focused on the place where concrete materials are "assembled and erected . . . [and] becomes a part of the real world," looking at the creation of forms in a context of the limitations and opportunities of new technology to intersect with craft and tradition. This study has been an exploration of how modern technology can be used in traditional and non-traditional ways to transform materials. Both traditional and non-traditional joints create a static connection, one that if done correctly has limited, if any, movement. Can we use modern technology as a way to explore something more dynamic, something that isn't fixed? How will this transformation change the way we think of the material?

Project Description

This exploration has truly been an iterative process, and these sections attempt to show not only the many potential solutions or new ideas, but also a mental map of the learning that happened in the making, in the prototyping, in the conversation and interaction between thing and person. The study of Japanese and Western woodworking highlighted the fixed nature of a joint and the limited fluidity of a hinge, which typically only moves in one direction. The central thesis question evolved, and further exploration led to an examination of what materials could bend in more than one way. It became apparent that many could and that through death or evolution, the familiar can be completely transformed. The exploration of various materials and technologies and how they could be used in a transformative way was extensive. The use of different tools, in both additive and subtractive methods of interaction with the material, allowed for a rigorous process. A series of tests were used to explore the various transformations and the limits of the kerf transformations. These studies measured strength and flexibility for a large number of pieces made with different variables, including material, width of cuts, and amount of material removed, revealing that multiple directions of bending were possible. After this testing concluded, the methods were used to experiment with a variety of applications, many of which have been included in these materials.

Laser Cutter - patterns and transformation