Pliant BODIEs




Professor:  Leighton Beaman

University of Virginia | School of Architecture

SARC 5555

Campbell Hall | Rm 108

Th: 3:30pm - 6:00pm 


The Global North is dominated by energy intensive buildings which achieve structural, environmental, and formal stability by resisting their contextual conditions, and parsing material affects. These layered and often redundant building systems have alternatives -  alternatives that can significantly reduce the use of non-renewable materials and high-mass structures. Pliant Bodies is a research project that examines resilient and materially commingled structures as one potential alternative. Combining computational design and simulation methods with materials and assemblies research, Pliant Bodies investigates surfaces that operate as a single body, providing structure, enclosure, form, and affect, simultaneously.

These types of lightweight, low-mass, and highly articulated surfaces are linked in process and performance to a number of non-western and sustainable building traditions. From the bundled reed surfaces of Rwandan houses to the Q’eswachaka grass bridges of Peru, co-mingled material structures display pliant, rather than resistive behaviors. This semester, we will draw knowledge from these and other examples that span scales, cultures, and eras, of design thinking and fabrication, to inform our research and design work. We will utilize both manual and automated design and fabrication processes to gain greater understanding into how these dynamically stable assemblies manifest emergent properties and offer a direction for computational/material design practices.

Our final output will be a funded public installation we design and fabricate together, demonstrating our research findings and technological developments. Our primary software platform will be Rhinoceros & Grasshopper, along with a suite of plugins and custom scripts for simulation and modeling. Fabrication will be done using laser cutters and CNC routers. Some familiarity with this software and equipment is preferred, allowing us to move to an advanced level of research. However, we will conduct weekly tutorials to expand your modeling, scripting and fabrication abilities, share insights and critiques, collaborate on design ideas, and troubleshoot problems. The course is structured around both individual and group work.



This Section is Under Construction

All work and participation is graded using a points systems. Points are determined using three criteria, and distributed by the stated percentages and/or points. Points translate to grades from A - D in  +/- increments.


Grading will be divided into the following areas:

A | Individual / Group Design & Prototyping 25%

B | Testing & Fabrication: 75 %



Grading will be determined by how well each student performs in the following areas: 

The understanding of the course/studio project at hand, combined with an appropriate process of inquiry & development of a consistent and rigorous analysis/design process with clearly articulated ideas.

The ability to accurately and precisely craft a digital and physical response to the analysis/design assignment.  This includes the ability to clearly and concisely communicate ideas, and produce well-formed digital and physical: models, diagrams, drawings, and images the project.

The ability to engage in the assignment with fellow students and your instructor & the ability to receive criticism and incorporate this into your project’s development. Your ability to work in groups, meet deadlines, and contribute to studio culture.



A | Excellent:  90 - 100 points  
Project / Course Work surpasses expectations in terms of inventiveness, appropriateness, verbal and visual presentation, conceptual rigor, craft, and personal development. Student pursues concepts and techniques above and beyond what is discussed in class. Project is complete on all levels.
B | Good: 80 - 90 points
Project / Course Work is thorough, well researched, diligently pursued, and successfully completed.  Student pursues ideas and suggestions presented in class and puts in effort to resolve required projects. Project is complete on all levels and demonstrates potential for excellence.
C | Acceptable: 70 - 80 points
Project / Course Work meets the minimum requirements. Suggestions made in class are not pursued with dedication or rigor. Project is incomplete in one or more areas.
D | Poor: 60 - 70 points
Project / Course Work is incomplete. Basic skills, technological competence, verbal clarity, and/or logic of presentation are not level-appropriate. Student does not demonstrate the required design skill and knowledge base. Work is incomplete.


Software & Hardware

This Section is Under Construction

Each student is required to have a laptop or desktop with the following software installed on the first day of class - unless otherwise noted. Each student must complete any required training associated with the use of laser-cutters, CNC milling, and 3D printing at UVa. You will be expected to use this software and hardware throughout this course.  



Rhino 6 + Grasshopper

Grasshopper Plug-ins:

  • Ivy

  • Hoopsnake

  • Human

  • Mesh +

  • Weaverbird

  • Kangaroo

  • Karumba

Auto CAD v.2018

Adobe CS Suite 

  • Illustrator

  • InDesign

  • Photoshop

Vray (Rhino Plug-In)

Catalyst (available in Architecture School Computer Labs)

MasterCam (available in Architecture School Computer Labs)



Subtractive Manufacturing Techniques

Laser Cutting

CNC Milling/Routing (in class tutorial, if needed)

Additive Manufacturing Techniques

3D printer training



The following adhere to the University of Virginia polices and may impact your grade. Please read carefully.


Students are required to participate in all class activities. Participation includes completing assignments and group presentations, contributing to class discussions, and presenting work. Each student is expected to come to class prepared with questions and comments about assigned reading(s), and completed assignments.


Students who are 15 minutes late to class will be marked late. 3 late days = 1 unexcused absence. For Lecture courses and seminars 2 unexcused absences = the lowering of one +/- grade. For studios, 3 unexcused absences will result in a lowering of one +/-grade. An additional +/- grade will be deducted for each unexcused absence thereafter. Regardless of tardy of absence, students are responsible to complete all assignments on time, unless alternative arrangements have been made with the instructor.

Students seeking an excused absence must inquire with the instructor prior to the absence, except in cases of medical emergencies.


The University of Virginia is committed to the principles of intellectual honesty and integrity. Members of the UVa community are expected to maintain complete honesty in all academic work, presenting only that which is their own work in tests and assignments. This includes recognition and adherence to the UVa honor code.


Any student who feels s/he may require accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the instructor privately at the beginning of the semester to discuss specific needs. In addition, please contact the Student Disability Access Center at the University of Virginia's Department of Student Health directly to coordinate reasonable accommodations prior to the start of any UVa course if you need to discuss or implement solutions to specific needs.



This Section is Under Construction


Students are required to submit documentation of their work to A: the course instructor & B: the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Incomplete and/or failing grades will be given to any student who fails to submit both sets of work documentation. Late submissions will be graded accordingly.


Students are required to submit documentation of their work. Late submissions will be graded accordingly. Incomplete and/or failing grades will be given to any student who fails to submit both sets of work documentation

Documentation of all assignments and final project must be submitted to the instructor via Google Drive folder (link will be provided). This submission must include the following:

 1. Packaged InDesign file + PDF of final project board
 2. Photos of your final models, installations, prototypes, etc
 3. All files and requirements from previous assignments 

File naming convention for Individuals: 

For example: 2018_ARCH3020_Smith_A01_CirculationDiagram

File naming convention for Teams or Groups:

For example: 2018_ARCH3020_GroupA_A01_CirculationDiagram




Citing and crediting the intellectual and physical property of others, when used in your own work, is an important part of being both an academic and professional. It is considered plagiarism when non-trivial portions of another's work is not credited or cited properly.

Failure to cite work used will effect your grade and may lead to an honor-code violation and/or university discipline. To avoid this, be rigorous in documenting what and where you get information and include proper credits and citations when you disseminate your work: Portfolios, Presentations, Websites, etc.

The School of Architecture Library has created a citation guide to assit you in determining how to credit a diverse collection of works by others. For this course both Chicago Style and MLA are acceptable protocols. You may use either, but no both.




This Section is Under Construction


01. 16. 2019


  • What, Why, How - Pliant Bodies?

  • Experiment 1

  • Skills & Methods - A List

  • Syllabus Review | Q & A

  • Grasshopper & Plugins - What you need



  • Complete Listed Lynda Tutorials

    1. Learning Grasshopper

    2. Grasshopper Essential Training

      • 0. Introduction

      • 1. Algorithmic Thinking

      • 6. Simulating & Formfinding with Kangaroo



01. 23. 2018



  1. Using the Tutorial Files (Rhino T01+ Grasshopper T01) create 3 new 3D surface that fits within a 300mm cube.

  2. For each surface, create a set of fabrication files. Examine how the Grasshopper script is working, where you can manipulate the results, and how you have control over surface articulation and refinement. With each new version make changes to the script so that the results are different in some way.

  3. Choose one of the 3 surfaces to fabricate using the paper and connectors provided. Parts should be cut using the laser cutter. Try and pack as many parts onto a sheet of paper as possible. Leave at least 3mm between parts.

  4. Assemble surface.



01. 31. 2018


  • Review Tutorial 01

  • Review Assignment 01 Constructions

  • Tutorial 02 : Annotation


  1. Using T02 create 3 new digital (rhino/gh) surfaces. Each model should have a total surface area of between 0.3 & 0.50 Square Meters.

  2. Exchange these 3 rhino/gh files with an assignment partner.

  3. Compare surfaces with your partner. Select one surface, or create a new surface.

  4. Together or separately, construct 2 versions of the same surface. The version can differ in one or many ways: orientation of strips, size and number of strips, tab dimensions, number of faces, etc.



02. 07. 2018


  • Review Tutorial 02

  • Review Assignment 02 Constructions

  • Tutorial 03 : Articulation


  1. As a class design a cylinder or other closed surface. Use the constructions from A02 to inform your decision.

  2. Design an articulation strategy based on what you learned from A02. This should include the size, number, and orientation of the mesh “strips” you will use. Consider the size and number of tabs, the amount of overlap for each, and the requirements for surface void.

  3. Starting with the T03 file, articulate the surface you selected as a class. You can change/edit this file as you wish. create 3 variations of your strategy and save each by “saving state” and by “internalizing data”.

  4. Calculate the area difference (between 3D surface & 2D surface) for each strategy iteration.

  5. Build one of the iterations.



02. 14. 2018


  • Review Tutorial 03 & Projects

  • Tutorial 04 : Kangaroo


  1. Using the Tutorial files from class and your research into precedent projects and objects, design 9 (3 typologies x 3 kangaroo simulations ) mesh surfaces that has at least two volumes.

  2. The surfaces should fit into a 1 meter x 1 meter x 1 meter cube (or similar volume).

  3. Select one mesh surface to build. Make sure that the surface you select has only one (U or V) necked edges.

  4. Build that surface.



02. 21. 2018


  • Review A04

  • Tutorial T05

  • Workflows & Schedule


Part 01

  1. Using Tutorial 05 Develop 3 forms that has the following conditions:

    • Has at least 4 naked/fixed Edges

    • Occupies and defines a space between .5 & .75 cubic meter

    • Has a total surface area of between .25 and .75 square meters

  2. Manipulate the articulation/tabbing portion of T05 adding or editing components to generate a unique formal language for the 2D strips

  3. Work with a partner to select one form and one articulation/tabbing language.

  4. Combine form & strategy into a single object

  5. Construct using paper.

Part 02

  1. With your partner & using Tutorial 05 Develop a form that has the following conditions:

    • Has at least 3 naked/fixed Edges

    • Occupies and defines a space of .5 cubic meter

  2. Create strips using your existing articulation / tabbing strategy or design a new one.

  3. Select a connector and create holes that correspond.

  4. Layout your parts on a 24” x 96” sheet.



02. 28. 2018


  • Rhino CAM (rm 105) & Onsrud Router Tutorial (shop)

  • Review A05 (part 2)

  • Prototyping Organization


Part 01 (with your current group)

  1. Complete Part 2 from A05. Each group may make changes or adjustments to their structure.

  2. Each group must fit all parts on a single 24” x 96” sheet of veneer

  3. Remember to convert between metric/inches

  4. The Router will be reserved for our class (Thursday 3:30pm - 6:00pm)

Part 02 (individually, or with group)

  1. Propose a series of prototypes and schedule for W07 - W11

  2. Each prototype should deal with a specific primary issue: Form, Connections, Fabrication. These can be performed in any order.

  3. List a set of dimensions, materials, and performance goals for each prototype.

  4. Use paper to test pieces and parts.

  5. Use W08 to revisit use of Rhino Cam & the Unsrud router.

  6. Prepare a PDF (text, diagrams, etc) which outlines your plan.



03. 07. 2018


  • Onsrud Router Tutorial 2 (shop)


  • Complete A06 (parts 1 & 2)

  • Prototyping Organization



03. 14. 2018

Spring Break



03. 21. 2018


Present A 06 - Part A & B

Establish 3 Research Objectives

  • Patterns : The spatial location and arrangement of points-of-interface for two or more “parts” derived from weaving processes/techniques.

  • Forms : The spatial arrangement of surface to fill/define/enclose one or more volumes.

  • Edges : The spatial boundaries and/or end conditions of a 3-dimensional surface.

Tutorial : E01 (Patterns)


E01 | Patterns - (to be completed a as a class)

  1. Sign-up for CNC routing time for the next 3 weeks!

  2. Create a simple Boxy mesh topology, with at-least one “branch”

  3. Using the Grasshopper file from Tutorial 06 (T06C) design 3 Point-Of-Interface (POI) strategies, that can be applied to the “boxy mesh” from step 1

  4. Fabricate part or all of this object using each of the 3 strategies using paper.

  5. select one strategy based on your findings from steps 1 - 3 to fabricate using wood veneer. The entire form should be completed.




03. 28. 2018


Present E01 (4 constructions)

Establish 3 Research Objectives (Continued)

  • Patterns : The spatial location and arrangement of points-of-interface for two or more “parts” derived from weaving processes/techniques.

  • Forms : The spatial arrangement of surface to fill/define/enclose one or more volumes.

  • Edges : The spatial boundaries and/or end conditions of a 3-dimensional surface.

Tutorial : E02 (Forms)


E02 | Forms - (to be completed a as a class)

  1. Adjust CNC router time

  2. Using the Grasshopper (and rhino) file E02, and building upon your work from the pattern experiments create 9 forms.

  3. Each form should be based on a polyhedron that have faces with the same number of edges.

  4. Due Monday @ 9am (or earlier) - Consult me me about which prints to make and to test meshes for printablity.

  5. Select two to 3D print. Using Grab CAD process each model and print.

  6. Select one print to process into strips. Examine the strips file to anticipate constructability.




04. 04. 2018


Present E02 (1 construction, multiple 3D prints)

Establish 3 Research Objectives (Continued)

  • Patterns : The spatial location and arrangement of points-of-interface for two or more “parts” derived from weaving processes/techniques.

  • Forms : The spatial arrangement of surface to fill/define/enclose one or more volumes.

  • Edges : The spatial boundaries and/or end conditions of a 3-dimensional surface.

Tutorial : E03 (Edges)


E03 | Edges - (to be completed a as a class)

  1. Using the selected form from E02, develop 3 edge conditions, using the Grasshopper (and rhino) file E03

  2. Fabricate portions of this form to test the edge condition designs. These can be completed using paper and/or wood veneer.

  3. Select one to build using wood veneer.



04. 11. 2018


Present E02 (prints) + E03 (1 veneer construction + multiple wood/paper edge tests)

Design Charette - final installation

Request CNC routing time


  • Fabrication & Installation

  • Project Documentation



04. 18. 2018


  • Fabrication Update

  • CNC router / Laser-cutter time


  • Fabrication & Installation

  • Project Documentation



04. 25. 2018


  • Fabrication Update

  • CNC router / Laser-cutter time


  • Fabrication & Installation

  • Project Documentation



05. 01. 2018