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Feature article

Scott Skipworth

Modular System Design and Construction at BILLY BLUE COLLEGE OF DESIGN by Scott Skipworth.

Modularity is explored in Commercial and Residential Interior Design subjects at Billy Blue College of
Design. By exploring how built elements are made of modules rather than one large form, students
prepare for real world installation challenges of pre-fabrication, transportation to site, delivery
through restrictive doorways and in-situ assembly with the foresight for dismantle and recycling in
future. The benefits of studying in the cross-disciplinary environment of Think Education Group are
evident in the innovative ways the students’ modular systems provide performance and branding

The Billy Blue students take a step-by-step generative design approach, letting the modular design
evolve though analog physical materiality exploration and computer modelling. The students first
explore material properties through physical model making, then computer model these results.
Next, the computer is used by the students as a design partner to advance the form and modular
connections. Algorithmic functions of the 3D computer software replicate and modify the modular
arrays with unpredictable results. At any step in this generative process the unpredictable 3D forms
and connections can be developed for construction. The results are thrilling and could never have
been achieved by just computer rendering initial concepts.

The materiality and forms of the built system itself offers brand identity, recognisable wherever the
modular system is assembled as being unique to a brand. Commercial Interior students have used
this generative approach to propose 3D branding for pop-up retail, restaurants, and exhibitions. The
Residential Interior students have generated modular living station prototypes and residential
interior furnishings with special brand personality.

To understand how modular systems can perform in response to human activity, Billy Blue Interior
Design students explore bodily movement in relation to the built environment. Their movements
suggest possibilities for augmented functionality of modular systems, even aiding movement for
physically challenged users. Students use paper folding techniques on large size paper to produce
link elements at a human scale. The students use the folded paper to physically connect with the
built environment (in the classroom, on campus, and in the surrounding urban environment). The
students move in connection with the built environment emphasising and charting their movements
like basic choreography. The experience of physically moving inspires students to consider
movements of their modular system prototypes. Examples of student results are: a seating element
that can change size depending on how many people need to sit; a workstation chair with seat,
thighs, arms, and back panels that move in relation to a user leaning back to work on a computer pad
device then supports a user as he/she rises to a higher workbench height; a refreshments bar that
extends during an evening exhibition opening then retracts to become an information desk during
the day.

Students are now able to 3D print their modules on Billy Blue College of Design’s 3D printers. This
allows students a next step in the generative process. From the computer model, the 3D printer
prints a physical model that allows students to physically try connecting modules that have been
generated in the computer visualisations. The computer 3D printed models allow students to
explore physically connecting the modular system, leading to more useful and efficient connections.

Billy Blue College of Design student exhibitions provide opportunities for students to construct and
install their modular systems at full scale for public use. Students interpret their 3D computer
models and smaller scale physical models in construction documentation and materiality
specification. From the construction drawings, students build the modular system. The students
transport their full size modular systems to assemble on site. Human use during exhibitions allows
students to analyse functionality of modular systems and durability and maintenance of materiality

The modularity exploration at Billy Blue College of Design is part of a spatial planning initiative
directed by Head of Academic Studies Michael O’Brien, who wrote the Billy Blue College of Design
Commercial Interior and Residential Interior courses. The initiative was developed and academically
coordinated by Marika Varady and Scott Skipworth. Lecturers who have delivered subjects from this
initiative are Anna Medvedskaya, Kristie Paul, and Isobelle Pover-Leong. Students documented,
constructed and installed modular systems for exhibition with leadership by lecturers Vicki
Berglinden, Cecile Roux, Daniel Staebe, Damien Hodgson and Lisa Tatman.

Scott Skipworth. Acting Head of Academic Studies, Interior Design. Think Design Education