Mutable Mesh - 3D printed mesh formwork for fabric casting

Ryan Cohn + Bryan Hicks



Tsz Yan Ng


Concrete is a material with many unique qualities. It is moldable, strong, long lasting, and because it goes from liquid to solid, it is able to take on many organic forms. This thesis looks at the creation of a new casting method using smart meshes which rely on concrete’s liquid properties to inform the final shapes. Inspired by Frei Otto, we have created hanging mesh surfaces, but unlike traditional funicular structures, we control the final shape by differing patterns and elasticities allowing for the creation of complex and efficient geometries without the large use of heavy formwork. Instead, using robotic processes for TPU rubber 3D printing, we are able to fabricate thin mesh molds that respond to prescribed deformation during the casting process.

The mesh designs are coded from a three-dimensional surface which is digitally “smashed” using python into a two-dimensional mesh. This “smart” mesh retains the original surface’s geometry by changing its cell size and by curving the extruded line until it is an equivalent length to the three-dimensional surface. Doing so allows a much larger mesh to be printed on a smaller heated table. Given specific fixed anchor points, the mesh is then hung and subjected to the weight of the concrete thus causing it to deform downwards into the desired shape. This process creates inverted surfaces, best suited for medium to small scale panelized projects. Our final design is an outdoor shelter with seating elements to showcase the complex geometries that this process is capable of creating. The project highlights the use of computational design and digital fabrication tools to explore experimental processes for casting concrete, focusing on reduction of material used for formwork fabrication to achieve highly complex geometric casts.