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Architecture professor’s steel assembly proposal wins national award

A structural module with a unique interlocked configuration that is easily assembled by a single worker.

Snap-Interlock Module System (SIMS) is a structural module with a unique interlocked configuration that is easily assembled by a single worker.

By RACHEL TEAMAN

Published April 15, 2019

A proposal by Jin Young Song that envisions a more efficient assembly system for steel construction has been announced as a 2019 Forge Prize Phase 1 Winner.

The two-stage competition is organized by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) to engage designers in design innovation for steel as a 21st century building material. The prize was established by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

Song, an assistant professor of architecture in UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, proposes a Snap-Interlock Module System (SIMS), a structural module with a unique interlocked configuration that is easily assembled by a single worker.

The prototype is based on the elastic instability of steel, distributing forces through the stacked modules. One module has four hooked legs on the top and bottom and snaps into four legs from four adjacent modules.

The five modules are interlocked as one unit, where individual steel modules are braced each other. A middle part of the module can be modified to allow specified angles and form a curved geometry.

SIMS is one of three Phase 1 winners.

The winning concepts were selected by a jury of luminaries: Joseph G. Burns, Managing Principal at Thornton Tomasetti in Chicago; Eui-Sung Yi, Design Principal at Morphosis Architects; and Terri Meyer Boake, a professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo.

Rendering of an archway constructed with the Snap-Interlock Module System (SIMS).

Song developed two arch-shaped prototypes using 3-D printed modules that exhibit how the system can achieve limited geometric freedom.

More than 60 years after Konrad Wachsmann imagined a modular, coordination based system, building structures are still based on the steel post and beam system with conventional bolt/weld connections.

Even after significant development in digital and manufacturing technologies, most advancements in the construction industry are simply adding new subcomponents to this primary building system.

However, new smart fabrication techniques and advanced digital design tools allow Song and his team to revisit Wachsmann’s holistic approach for a unit-based ‘part to whole’ system.

Song developed two arch shaped prototypes using 3d printed modules that exhibit how the system can achieve limited geometric freedom. Further structural analysis and new interpretation will be necessary to demonstrate how this ‘part to whole’ system can be applied to the building structure, facade, substructure, architectural partition walls, and more.

Project collaborators include UB’s Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies research group, UB associate professor of structural engineering Jongmin Shim, and Xiandong He, a doctoral student in engineering at UB. 

Phase 1 of the 2019 Forge Prize selects three designs that receive a stipend, and are paired with a steel fabricator to further refine the structural aspects of the concept, and improve viability in a real-world application. In Phase 2, contestants will prepare a final submission and present to the jury in May 2019.

The three finalists will present their designs, and the jury will announce the winner at the AIA Conference on Architecture June 6-8 in Las Vegas.