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Michael Ramage and his firm 'Light Earth Designs' design new offices in Chicago, USA

last modified Feb 13, 2014 11:03 AM

The client wanted the architecture of their offices to highlight that they think and work differently. As much as possible, they were to draw on nature.  They limited the material palette, and primarily worked with timber, earth masonry, and steel.  The timber is beetle-damaged wood that is otherwise a waste product (or source of energy, which isn’t a good use of virgin wood), while the earth comes from the client’s farm a few miles away.

The architecture creates a landscape of earthen vaults in the ceiling, which spread out over the floor and furniture made of beetle-kill pine.  All the materials are bright, enhancing the natural light and limiting the amount of artificial lighting needed.  This is further enhanced by a reflecting pool that increases the perceived height of the space as well as the light. 

In order to build the 200 units of the ceiling with precision and minimal waste, they had to bring together a number of construction elements from previous projects, and to develop new ways of working, managing to maintain high craft with digital data underlying it all. The ceiling vaults were designed and printed as surfaces at 1:10 in 3D, from which a model was made at 1:3 in stone.  This model, by Sarah Pennal, was used to define and understand the coursing.  From this model came a CAD model of every tile and every grout line, which was sent to Chicago to be milled in timber using a CNC router.  This model served as positive formwork out of timber, on which was then cast multiple negatives in silicone.  The silicone molds held individual tiles as the vaults were built.  The tiles themselves vary slightly, as all the batches were mixed.  This, plus the replication of craft construction in digital form, lends the vaults a hand crafted look while taking advantage of a manufacturing process that was used to make many repetitive units.