The base and pillars of the generativedesign pavilion are robotically carved Indiana limestone while the canopy is built from a light-weight CNC knitted textile fabric.


The Generative Design Pavilion, unveiled at Autodesk University 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada, showcased novel workflows in computational design and fabrication techniques.

Designed by Autodesk and fabricated by Quarra Stone Company and University of Michigan Assistant Professor of Architecture Sean Ahlquist, the Generative Design Pavilion represents innovative design, structural optimization, and an iterative design to fabrication process of unlike materials – stone and fabric.

The objective of the project was to highlight the contrasting nature of each material while following a fluid geometric form. This posed challenges and creative opportunities to the design team and fabricators since each material has its own unique characteristics.
The stone base, which weighed over 8,500 pounds, was sculpted out of individual Indiana limestone blanks using a mix of industrial robotic workflows and hand carving techniques.
 CNC milling, robotic fabrication, and traditional hand carving workflows were used to build the stone base of the Generative Design Pavilion. Photos courtesy of Stebs Schinnerer.
The bench design proved to be one of the more difficult engineering problems of the project. Stone, as we all know, is very good in compression but weak in tension. With a span of 12 feet and only 2” thick at its center, the bench design required both analytical simulation and material testing in order to develop a working solution.  The engineering team, led by Paul Kassabian at Simpson, Gumpertz, and Heger Engineering, used data obtained from a series of physical loading tests from their state-of-the-art materials testing lab to inform their analytical simulations produced in SAP – ultimately leading to a reinforcement strategy that could handle both the compressive and tensile forces. In the end, a series of glass pultruded rods were inlaid and epoxied to the top and bottom surfaces of the bench using a Hilti high strength epoxy. The finish was then hand finished to achieve a honed finish and polished with a stone enhancer.

Analytical simulations were used to determine the stresses that emerge within the stone bench under a given design load.  Image courtesy of Simpson, Gumpertz, and Heger Engineering.


Physical tests were conducted in order to understand the breaking point and internal stresses of the GFRP stone reinforcement strategy. Image courtesy of Simpson, Gumpertz, and Heger Engineering

 Install of the bench on-site in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Photo courtesy of Paul Kassabian.

 A detail view of the bench showing the inlaid glass pultruded rods which act as tensile reinforcement.

The canopy was built as a series of lightweight tensile CNC knitted textile panels made of fine nylon-elastic yarns. Fabricated on a Stoll CMS 822 HP knitting machine, the panels were custom designed using an iterative workflow that combined digital simulations and physical mockups.

Detail photo of the custom CNC knitted nylon-elastic fabric. Photo courtesy of Stebs Schinnerer.

A Stoll CMS 822 HP knitting machine was used to fabricate the lightweight tensile canopy of the Generative Design Pavilion. Photo courtesy of Stebs Schinnerer.

The transition between the two materials became a critical connection detail. The teams had to maintain the geometric fluidity of the form while incorporating lighting and the structural connection plates. Each of the unique connection plates were fabricated at Autodesk’s new BUILD space in Boston, MA using a large format CNC router and waterjet machine. The top profile of the stone column was designed to match the shape of the fabric as it is stretched into its final position.

An exploded axon of the column connection detail.

 A detail photo of the connection between the stone base and the fabric canopy. Photo courtesy of Ali Seyedahmadian
Each column incorporated an embedded MR16 LED bulb that was individually controlled using a DMX controller. Users were given the opportunity to control the brightness of each column by playing with the settings on a custom built iPad app. The app sent a wireless OSC message to a laptop running Dynamo which interpreted the message and issued a control message to the DMX controller.
Make sure to check out the following links to learn more about the Generative Design Pavilion and how it was built:
Special thanks to the entire team for their tireless support and contribution to this project. (Acknowledgements arranged in alphabetical order by company/institution)

Autodesk, Inc.
Adam Allard, Fabrication Consultant
Michael Dewberry, Lighting Design and Simulation
Lucas Ewing, Fabrication
Adrian Finch, Marketing
Daniel Foisy, Exhibit Hall Lead Technical Director
Laura Gardner, Marketing and Booth Coordinator
Matt Jezyk, Project Coordinator
Craig Long, Fabrication
Jose Luis Garcia del Castillo Lopez, Lighting Design and Engineering
Andy Payne, Lead Designer and Project Manager
Taylor Tobin, Fabrication Consultant
Dan Vandewoestyne, CNC Milling Consultant

Quarra Stone Company
James Durham, President
Eduardo Banderas, Shipping and Logistics
Lincoln Durham, Shipping and Logistics
Eric Kudrna, Stone Handwork
Alex Marshall, Fabrication Consultant
Frank Meier, CNC Fabrication
Alireza Seyedahmadian, Project Manager, Robotic Fabrication & Engineering
Brian Smith, Robotic Fabrication & Engineering

University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Sean Ahlquist, Textile Design and Engineering
Disha Sharmin, Simulation and CNC Knit ProgrammingAdam Wang, CNC Knit Programming and Textile Fabrication
Florence Warner, Textile Fabrication

Simpson Gumpertz and Heger Engineering
Chris Coakley, Structural Engineering
Paul Kassabian, Principal Structural Engineer
Juhun Lee Structural Engineering and Simulation
Gustavo Tumialan, Structural Engineering and FRP Reinforcement Design

Paper Fortress
Stebs Schinnerer, Videographer