Student using CU Denver laboratory

Making Buildings. Making Landscapes. Making Cities.

March 29, 2023

The Design Fabrication Lab at the College of Architecture and Planning supports the exploration of ideas through the physical investigation and manipulation of materiality. Both a model shop and a laboratory, the lab was named to express the seriousness and rigor with which students explore ideas of making. Housed on two floors in separate buildings at the college, the lab has a full complement of traditional and innovative digitally-driven tools, including a model shop, laser lab, metals lab, 3D print lab, CNC lab, and a build space.

“Making is at the core of architecture and design. Making buildings, making landscapes, and making cities are all good examples of this. I would liken the practice of exploring ideas through making to the training an elite athlete puts themselves through when training for the Olympics,” said Matt Gines, instructor and director of the Design Fabrication Lab. “The more you practice making, the more successful you become at understanding the many ways that you can draw, express, or design a detail. The importance of grasping these abilities significantly changes ones understanding of detailing, or how things go together, which elevates an architect or designer’s ability to think through complex assemblies as they move through the curriculum and on to a career.”

Design Fabrication in the Classroom

In the case of architecture, the Design Fabrication Lab directly supports the curriculum. Studios at the foundational levels are typically producing models for their assignments that explore ideas of form-finding and relationship-building through a number of lenses with layers of complexity. Beginning with undergraduate Studio I, students are taught how to begin to explore ideas through ideas of making. The students are led through safety training and provided feedback on their representational ideas and how they might make them. Later, as part of Studio II, they are introduced to laser cutting and 3D printing. At this stage in their education, students are able to electively choose to advance their skillset further by training on CNC routing, CNC plasma cutting, and metalworking.

As students progress through the curriculum, so does their ability to build. From Studio III forward, they are exploring ideas of architecture, fabrication, design, relationships, and overall exploration at full-scale. These areas of exploration can be seen in undergraduate and graduate courses, programs, and initiatives—including EcoFab, Bixler Bio-Design, and Colorado Building Workshop—and the work these programs do in installation architecture and design build. Occasionally students turn to fabrication after graduating, including alumni who own the fabrication companies RAW Creative and VonMod. Additionally, a large number of students who have worked in CAP’s Design Fabrication Lab go on to work for companies involved in architectural custom fabrication.

Evolving Technologies

Technology has advanced making and changed methods of construction, which has the ability to shift and create industry change. Houses can be 3D printed and robots are welding bridges and stacking bricks to construct buildings. In the same respect, traditional technologies are invaluable resources to innovative, design-thinkers and makers.

“Although digital equipment is more innovative; innovation doesn’t necessarily come from the tool. Someone can be innovative on a traditional piece of equipment,” said Gines.

Still, CAP strives to keep up with technological changes, having added two new CNC routers, a CNC plasma cutter, and a 3D printing lab over the past few years. As casting is not permitted in the CU Denver Building, the acquisition of an outdoor casting space was a great recent addition, impacting on-site work and faculty research. The Design Fabrication Lab is always looking for new opportunities to expand and grow in order to accommodate the space needed to support the increasing demand for digital fabrication and design technologies.