Two Minutes With // ROK

Hi! Today we have an insightful interview with some folks fromROK. ROK is anarchitectural and consultancy office focusing on special design, interior and retail architecture based in Zurich, Switzerland. Their specific focus is ininnovative construction, automated fabrication and computer-based planning.Be sure to check out their websitefor more. Enjoy the interview!

Images courtesy of ROK.

VT: You describe architecture as “the creative translation process of complex requirements of our clients into individual and suitable designs.” How does this approach affect the conceptual development and construction of each project? How do the client’s needs play in to the creation of an individual and suitable design?

ROK: Usually, we approach the conceptual development of a project through intense communication with our clients and start analyzing their requirements. Especially with smaller firms, it is just not realistic to get a detailed brief and start the design phase right away. In contrast, we invest quite a lot of energy to first identify the key requirements, which ultimately form the basis of the design development. In context of the MRQT Boutique, it was essential for the client to have a high degree of recognition and uniqueness to attract people’s attention. Hence, we were aiming for a rich physical and sensual experience to stick out and to establish a strong contrast to online shopping. We materialized this idea through a fur-like wall consisting of 22,000 wooden sticks, which together to form a flowing pattern referencing the delicate texture of textiles and cloth. It would be naïve to propose such a design idea without the sound understanding of its technical realization. This is where we benefit from our expert knowledge in the field of customized digital design tools and digital fabrication techniques. It helps us to meet the budget and schedule constraints of a project, which usually ranks high on the requirements list for all clients and all projects.

VT: Very precise construction methods are used to carry out your designs, including automated fabrication and computer-based planning in projects like the Office Wall Installation and the MRQT Boutique’s “fur-like wall.” How do you communicate your design in a way that the intended design details are not overlooked or mistranslated during their manual construction and installation?

ROK: In the design phase we work with both the digital and physical representation of our ideas. On the digital end, our specialists work with detailed 3-dimensional models. We can simply extract all visualizations, perspective drawings, plans and construction sequences from this dataset as traditional, 2-dimensional abstractions. However, we prefer to collaborate with contractors, using 3-dimensional planning tools and BIM strategies to simplify the direct data exchange between all partners within the project. This allows us to generate fabrication data for CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) fabrication machines right from our digital models and thus minimizes errors in the process. Mistranslations of details during the manual construction and installation process are further cancelled out by a key-lock approach using smartly designed prefabricated elements that only fit where they should fit.

The physical prototype is another important vehicle for planning and communication. Our project, the Office Wall Installation, actually served as an early mock-up for the MRQT Boutique to test, evaluate and improve the fabrication process. Moreover, it served as a demonstrator to discuss the design and construction strategy with our client and contractors.

Which representation type (traditional drawings, physical or digital models) is most suitable for a design highly depends on the type, complexity and scale of a project and its individual components. In general, we push for a fully 3-dimensional solution. If this means using a BIM model, a physical mock-up or simply a laptop or tablet on site during construction depending on the context of each individual, collaborative process within a project. However, we are convinced that the building industry will adopt more 3-dimensional planning tools and CNC fabrication machines in the near future

VT: All of your projects consist of many modular forms and components. How do youconceptualizea design as its being developed? Is each component first developed as a part to a greater whole or as an individual piece?

ROK: This question refers to the use of top-down or bottom-up strategies in the design process. For us, this highly depends on the project and the performance requirements of its components. If the effect or performance is achieved through the interaction of the single components then the design is more likely to be conceptualized using a top-down approach, in which a custom digital design tool controls the components. If the component itself is responsible for the effect and performance, then we tend to follow a bottom-up approach, from component to whole.

However, in practice we usually do not distinguish between these two strategies. We rather conceptualize our ideas in an iterative loop in which our designs benefit from a process from the large scale to the smallest details and back to the whole. Initially, an overall design concept is developed and material options are considered. Then we study adequate detailing solutions and feedback our insights into the overall concept. We repeat this design process during the development of a project. Based on our experience, this iterative approach plays an important role in the successful realization of a project while following closely the initial design concept.