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1000 Museum designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Kreysler & Associates

Data to Fabrication: A Conversation with Kreysler & Associates

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​Since 1982 Kreysler & Associates has been leading the way in the use of composite materials in construction. Born out of the high-performance boat industry, the company was founded to bring marine grade materials and techniques to construction. What started as a modest venture has become an internationally recognized enterprise known for its innovation, creativity, and craftsmanship. With two complete fabrication facilities at the northeastern edge of San Francisco Bay, we continue to lead the way in bringing advanced materials, fabrication, and project management techniques to our customers, large or small.

This month, we connected with William Kreysler, CEO of Kreysler & Associates, to learn more about his work, talk about their expertise on advanced technologies to build complex buildings. Unpacking Data in Practice is Data Aided Design’s recurring series highlighting emerging design professionals as they share their thoughts and perspectives on data-driven design.

1000 Museum designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Kreysler & Associates

Could you talk about how Kreysler & Associates started?

After building fiberglass sailboats for ten years, my thought was that these materials are too interesting and versatile to be confined to such a small scope. With this expanded awareness in 1982 Kreysler & Associates started by building sets for the San Francisco Opera. Gradually we began picking up projects for graphic designers doing monument signage and we even worked on Return of the Jedi. One thing led to another. Today we focused on making large scale exterior building facades & sculptures. But are always open to new challenges.

1000 Museum designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Kreysler & Associates

In which industries does your expertise and advanced technology find major applications?

We are considered experts in the use of composite materials for a variety of end uses but primarily those for architectural applications. We also happen to be Lloyds Registry certified to manufacture submarine pressure hulls so I guess we’ve cast a pretty broad net.

“Today we use digital data continuously but mostly to design fabrication strategies to drive tools.”

In 1985 Kreysler & Associates built a CNC milling machine to translate data acquired with 3D laser scanning in physical prototype, can we say that you developed a workflow to use data to drive fabrication? How did you arrive to such a pioneering workflow?

Our first venture into digital fabrication was in 1985. We were awarded several projects for an amusement park in Japan. One was a 36 foot tall statue of a gas station attendant, like Texaco did on Route 66 in the 50’s. I had no idea how to sculpt a statue and the conventional way to enlarge that I was aware of was to make a small model, cut it into slices and blow the shapes using an opaque projector onto a sheet of material. You then stack the large slices up, then sand and shape them to the final surface. That’s not so hard for a simple shape. To get good resolution on a 36’ tall human figure, too much of the model would end up on the shop floor as dust. The more slices the less skill to shape the piece. Fortunately I ran across an ad in Sculpture Magazine by a company that had invented the “Laser Scanner”. It was like a CAT scan but just on the surface of an object. From that scan data you could select all the points at a given elevation to get a “cross section” without cutting up the original model. Turns out there were enough points in a scan to create cross section slices every millimeter. The guys who made the scanner thought the opaque projector idea was crazy. They said “since the data is all digital, why not cut out the large slices on a CNC router?”. My sign company customers were just starting to use CNC Routers to cut out lettering but none of them wanted to muck up their machines cutting foam. Since we didn’t need the precision as much as the shapes, I decided to try to build one mostly out of plywood. We set a budget of $16,000 which was my expected profit on the statue. One goal was to get as much as we could from local sources, so most parts came from the local hardware store. Parker Hannifin was close so that’s where we bought the drives and stepper motors. We used that machine for years building all sorts of sculpture, dinosaurs, signs, all out of slices. Finally, the old wood machine caught fire one night and nearly burned the shop down. By then we’d made a few others so it wasn’t too much of a loss.

SF MOMA Expansion designed by Snohetta. Image © Kreysler & Associates

Could you talk about your current workflow, what are the latest technologies you adopt in your works? Do you use data, digital twins and AI to drive digital fabrication?

Today we use digital data continuously but mostly to design fabrication strategies to drive tools. We still think of it as nothing more than another tool in the shop. But just like any tool, it takes a lot of skill to use it properly. Too many folks think that because it’s a CNC machine or robot, it’s going to “do the work for you”. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the years have gone by, we’ve tried to stay on the leading edge of fabrication without falling over the cliff. Today our new shop on Mare island has a very large 5 axis CNC gantry, two Comau 6 axis robots on a 75 foot linear track that we use for sanding panel surfaces. We also have two or three laser trackers for QC and fabrication alignment, and are building a CNC controlled coating sprayer and a rotating table to tilt façade panels to the proper orientation on a building to verify their position. We’ve not gotten into AI although I can see where it might help in learning how to perform complex tasks that repeat but on different shapes and with different variables such as material density. I guess that’s next.

Could you describe a recent project where data and digital fabrication played a crucial role to achieve the design result?

Although any of our projects could be done by skilled craftsmen using traditional tools, some would take decades to do and nobody could or would want to pay for them. The digital tools allow us to offer work that is commercially impossible to do otherwise. The result is that we need more and more people, all craftsmen in this new era where traditional craftsmanship combines with 21st century digital craftsmen to create unique projects such as the Tulsa Pavilion we just finished, or the walls on the Zaha Hadid tower in Miami.

What do you think will be the future evolution in the use of data and digital fabrication in the design fields?

Just like any tool, digital tools will continue to evolve and serious craftsmen will continue to learn more and better ways to use them. Digital tools are no more or less than another way to get work done. In the hands of a true craftsman, a table saw can perform amazing feats. The same is true with digital tools, which will continue to evolve and continue to allow digital craftsmen to accomplish even increasingly amazing feats.

1000 Museum designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Kreysler & Associates
1000 Museum designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Kreysler & Associates
1000 Museum designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Kreysler & Associates
SF MOMA Expansion designed by Snohetta. Image © Kreysler & Associates
Boathouse Pavilion. Image © Kreysler & Associates
Boathouse Pavilion. Image © Kreysler & Associates
Mattia Santi

Mattia Santi

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