Rob Bell is a San Francisco based Artist, Designer and Engineer. After over a decade of working as a professional software engineer, Rob started Zomadic, a design/build company that focusses on the creative use of CNC technology. For Rob this has fulfilled a long time goal to combine his skills as a programmer with his desire to also work with his hands and create real world objects.
In 2001 after taking lessons from the works of Buckminster Fuller, Rob built his first of many Geodesic Domes. This lead him to other types of non-rectilinear geometries and research into the efficacy of their application to different architectural domains. In that vein, Rob went on to build a four metre tall stellated icosahedron called 'Spiky' that was featured in Mathworld.com in 2004. He constructed the piece from plywood and fabricated it in his garage with only a hand held skill-saw. It was around this time that Rob discovered what is properly known as a Zome in the wonderful book 'Shelter' by Lloyd Khan. Rob describes a Zome to us as,
"A type of dome which is based on polar zonohedral forms rather than geodesic. Zomes have many fantastic properties which render them highly modular and easy to work with."
Whilst planning his next structure, this time to be his first true Zome, Rob decided to see if there was an easier way to manufacture the necessary parts as opposed to standard shop tools. It was during this research that he discovered how CNC technology could help dramatically reduce his production times and heighten his capabilities. After researching different CNC tools Rob decided to purchase a ShopBot CNC Router and settled on Vectric's VCarve Pro software to create the toolpaths to cut out the Zome components. Rob explains below how VCarve Pro has become an integral part of his process.
"Shortly after starting Zomadic I purchased my first copy of VCarve Pro, I believe it was version 3. I chose VCarve Pro because of the many positive things I'd read about it on the ShopBot online forum. Since then I've used VCarve Pro for hundreds of CNC projects including signs, cabinetry, lamps, shelving, tables, chairs, beds, topographical contour models, architectural millwork, templates and more. I love the rich and well integrated feature set that VCarve Pro provides. I've found it provides me with enough control to accomplish just about anything I want to do. I've upgraded ever since and I'm quite pleased with the professional power packed in the latest version."
To design a Zome, Rob wrote ZomeBuilder, a parametric design tool inside of Google Sketchup to create the unique part geometry for each structure. In spite of the apparent complexity of Zomes, Rob notes that there only a few unique parts. Once the design is complete he exports the profile and pocketing regions of each part and then utilizes the power of VCarve Pro's layer management to import and organize the different vectors. From here he is able to automatically apply his saved Toolpath Templates to his standard file structure. This allows very fast calculation of the toolpaths for each design variation and once executed he is ready to save his part files and cut.
Rob even uses VCarvePro's vector contouring features to design some key part profiles as shown in the four step graphic above.
Since 2007, Rob has build a new Zome every year exploring the boundaries between art, mathematics and architecture. Here is a list of Rob's Zomes, starting with the Zomicile through to his most recent, the Miracula Mirabilis.
Most recently Rob as been awarded an art grant from Burningman for Zonotopia 2012. He has now started to create his most ambitious project to date -"The Two Trees of Zonotopia" as seen to the right.
To conclude the case study Rob shares his thoughts on Zonotopia and how the theme of this year's BurningMan festival has helped inspire his latest project,
"I think of Zonotopia as an archaeological find that grows each year and blossoms into revealing forgotten secrets of mathematical wonders from a long bygone era. In 2012 the theme at Burningman is Fertility 2.0 and thus I am building Zonotopia and the Two Trees. All of my Zome structures will return to the playa to create an ancient courtyard in the center of which grow two zonohedral tree structures which symbolize the ubiquitous nature of duality in the Universe."
We very much look forward to seeing the completion of the Two Trees project and would like to thank Rob for taking the time to talk with us about his passion for Zome architecture and explaining how VCarve Pro has been used in the process to make these amazing structures come to life.
To learn more about Zomes and Zonotopia and to follow along with this years project visit the Zonotopia blog at Zonotopia.org.
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