Prajapati’s Painted Bodhi: the Fourth Dimension Canvas

What if we could paint in the fourth dimension? Where the flat screen is no longer the limit, instead, we are immersed into the space we are designing. How would ink respond to gravity and how can it have structural-spatial qualities? The way we practice architecture has been relying on CAD and BIM software, until now. Painting will become the new device to design and build – all at once.

Situated in a seismic region: the step-wells of Boudhanath, the largest temple of Paint in Kathmandu, lies the “New-ari” printmaking house of Ram’s family. The inspiration came from the Bodhi tree. Bodhi is a sacred fig tree that entangled the Durbar temple during the 2015 Nepal earthquake, and because of the buttress roots, it kept the temple in place. The new house will be painted in the fourth-dimension space. Using ultra-lightweight polylactic acid and nanotech infused graphene (a material resilient to earthquake), it will be able to support its own weight, thus defying gravity.

The Ten-axis robot-arm and VR-Paint Cloud will become the new tool that will reach in the hands of the end user, the Shilpakar craftsmen. They can tailor and personalize their environment based on their individual needs. By promoting this new skill, it will allow: more rapid feedback, evaluation and learning… which progresses the field of architecture. Before, construction and drawings were two separate entities, until now. We no longer need to begin with the flatland screen, which detaches us from designing and building. The project is the third digital turn, the end of the projected image and New-ari haptic experience: the fourth-dimension canvas.

What would you say is your most important tool as an architect?

Just have one particular obsession, and master it. Be open minded, get out of your comfort zone and be brave to try a new skill you didn’t use before. Please don’t get stuck into routine! Be able to present your work as clear and concise as possible, and truly, believe and have confidence in your work. As architecture is a subjective field rather than an empirical one, no one knows the answer better than yourself. 

What prompted your interest in VR and your response to the Diploma 16 brief?

VR was a useful device to immerse into the space you are designing and also a tool to draw in the three/four dimensional space. I felt like a magician holding the wand and being able to see what I was drawing. Although, I could argue that, throughout my time at the Architectural Association, my way of practicing architecture was drawing through a flatland screen, so it was very challenging to adopt this new skill and draw inside the 3D space.  In the near future, we will be able to do a lot of exciting, creative and innovative works through the use of Virtual Reality and beyond. Currently, it is still in need of development and sophistication, but it won’t be too long until this becomes the primary tool for practicing architecture. Diploma 16 brief focuses on conscious-aware way of building lightweight structures, infusing nanotechnology, adopting local intelligence and reinvigorating the existing urban fabrics. So the brief encouraged innovation and design optimisation, which is very much what I enjoy to deal with as it makes your work relevant outside the academic realm.

What are the potentials of designing through VR? How will this challenge and blur the very notion of architecture and architecture representation further?

One main challenge I have encountered through my learning and training of architecture is that we most of the time design in a flat computer screen. We could occasionally make physical models, and just rely on 3D printing or A1 roll printing. Which destroys that connection of designing and building. The proposal in Prajapati’s Painted Bodhi is about designing and building all at once, which allows more rapid feedback, evaluation and learning. Which cuts out the middle man. You no longer have to draw, send it to manufacturing and assemble in site. Paint Cloud records, calibrates and vectorises your drawing, which is then immediately outputted by the 10-axis robot arm with paint extrusion. The paint will be made of biodegradable polylactic acid with nanotech infused graphene, thus it will be able to resist lateral forces and support its own weight, therefore, defy gravity.

Can we draw a comparison to the discovery of perspective during the Renaissance?

According to Mario Carpo’s Second Digital Turn, the purpose of the perspective was to record and compress information as economically and efficiently as possible. The perspective was a medium to show information of the space, indeed, if we go back in time, the first methods builders and architects used to convey visual data was through verbal communication, from moving to visual and representational. Prajapati’s Painted Bodhi, questions the way drawings should be recorded and executed, indeed here is the third digital turn: the end of the projected image, the fourth dimension canvas.

What was your work process in terms of research, project development and final thesis?

To be honest, it took me a lot of physical model iterations to get to where I am now. Believe it or not, my first model was a basic lasercutted paper model. Now that I look back at it, I really struggle to see any connection to my final models. But I guess it was part of evaluation and learning, so where everything grew was when I kept a 3D pen hidden in my shelf. Until the moment came, I was not very excited on working with the typical ways of making models (i.e. lasercutting, CNC, casting, welding, 3D printing…) and it couldn’t have been more better than working with 3D painting. From there, everything made sense, everything grew – all of the sudden I didn’t have that suffocation of booking the lasercutter machine at 9:01 pm or go to AA DPL lab to send my file to CNC or draw a rhino model to then send it to the Ultimaker. It was the 3D paint, as simple as that: I could draw what I had in mind immediately and that is a powerful tool for creativity. In the Technical Thesis, 3D painting lead me to many structural and architectural discoveries: resilient earthquake design and promoting a levitated/suspended envirionment… it opened up a new category on the way we build in architecture, and how 3D painting happens to be like a tree buttress root, that the lines or filaments entangles forms and it is ideal for earthquake resiliency and anchorage. Indeed, a new opportunity, and there is still a lot to find out about 3D painting.

How important was the drawing as means through which to discuss the development of the project at tutorials?

In many tutorials, instead of focusing on flat drawings, researches… the main device to discuss about the project was through the physical construct, or per se, the 3D drawing. So much reveals in a physical model compared to a render or an abstract… I don’t really know what it is, but it has that extra quality, that no other media can have. By also bringing the model into the unit space, my colleagues would be able to see it and vice versa, I could see their work, it was indeed, an exponential learning curve, the more we shared our work, the more we learned and executed exciting work. There is no other better way of learning, than being around the people in your unit, share your struggles and exchange ideas. One helps the other, and therefore, the work output becomes much more interesting and provocative. You should never be the solo or become that individual that “snugly isolates from other mentalities” (Louis Kahn). The 3D drawing was crucial to excel and challenge my understanding (and training) of architecture.

How did you approach the large composite ‘drawing’?

A reminder: 3D painting is not the same as 3D printing! 3D printing is outputted by the flatland computer screen, and then contour crafted: this process destroys the connection of designing and building, it disconnects that creative line. My “final” model (although I don’t really believe in final models), took me one month to make. The way I treated this model was literally treating it like a three-dimensional canvas, as I drew a line, it didn’t just become a line, depending on the thickness of filament, it could behave as a tension cable, and the thicker the line was, it became a beam. At times, there were difficulties using this new tool, as it would behave differently with gravity, the line would actually end up having distortions or curves which then affected my next move. So indeed, one move leaded to the next, to then achieving the “unpredicted” form.

How and to what extent has the environment at the AA influenced you as an architect? What are your next steps?

Every year at the AA was a process of discovery. First of all, the primary (which is also a life one) lesson was to learn how to teach yourself. How to manage your time, what skills you need to know to achieve the best possible medium, how to communicate your work and to be confident. Secondly, many of us individuals forget that we all have this “superpower”: intuition, and to be frank, we have to learn how to use it and know when it is there telling us the answer. Thirdly, go mad, be bold, be wild, take risks, make mistakes and accidents. But not any kind of madness: serious madness. These are all important assets for an architect, because without this, you won’t be able to go to the next mile stone. So indeed, I will take on board these lessons (and many ones which I fermented) into my future and the future of the built environment.