Fabrication Capstone

Screenshot Ray Eames.jpg
The most commonly used 3D technologies for digital output include 3D printing, CNC milling, and laser cutting. All of these machines work with CAD drawings created using software applications like Rhino. This assignment will give us an opportunity to get acquainted with the different machines while producing models for your final design. We'll pay special attention to a good setup in CAD that enables us to efficiently iterate through designs and fabricate them as well as investigate ways of exerting more control in the process to obtain more creative results.
Assessment objectives

Assessment objectives include:

  • Ability to create a 3D terrain model with CNC router
  • Ability to design the site with custom toolpaths and preparing the site for grounding your building.
  • Understanding of 3D fabrication technologies and their common applications
  • Ability to rapid prototype architectural massing options using the 3D printer
  • Ability to integrate diagrammatic architectural iterations with 3D site model
Exercise Type Project
Evaluation Criteria
High Pass
3D print iterations that show a logical range of solutions and integrate tightly with a creatively milled site model.
3D print clean iterations that fit a cleanly milled site model.
Low Pass
3D print a basic design that fits a rough site model.
No printing or milling accomplished.
Uses Tool(s) Tool:Rhino
Uses Workflow(s)


Just as the practice of descriptive geometry has been radically transformed by computational techniques in the past few decades, so this transition into the information age has impacted the domains of manufacturing and fabrication. The dominant paradigm of mass production has begun to be displaced, as artisanry was before it, and replaced by a much tighter loop connecting design prototypes, design specifications, manufacturing process models, and machine instructions.

Using a combination of fabrication processes and machines, including CNC milling, laser cutting, and 3d printing, students will produce a large-scale model constructed of materials of their choosing. The model will serve as a site and scheme model for the 200a final design project, depicting the overall form of the proposed scheme and how it relates to site conditions, including a proposal for built intervention and modifications to existing topography and site.


This capstone project introduces three fabrication devices - the CNC mill, the 3d printer, and the laser cutter - and culminates in the fabrication of a site and scheme model employing all three in some combination . Of these, the CNC mill will present the most challenges, as it is both the most time-intensive and requires more planning and forethought in comparison to 3d printing and laser-cutting.

Acquiring expertise on the CNC mill will proceed through two basic stages:

Test Model Project
Working in groups of three or four, each team will research an assigned material and milling process, produce a test cut object employing that process, and prepare a presentation for the group on the results.
Site and Scheme Model Project
Following the group investigations, and applying the knowledge gained from the collective efforts of the class, each student with prepare a proposal for a model fabrication method that involves not only the CNC mill, but all three fabrication machines.

The final model, produced at 1/16" = 1', will serve as both as a representation of site and as the basis for a representation of the proposed scheme in 200a. Stemming from preliminary site mappings, the site may contain both concrete and abstract elements, but must express some response to the following:

  • Land – ground cover, planting texture, path
  • Water – tides, waves
  • Architectural grounding - excavation, leveling, pylons, earth retaining elements


Production Plan

The final fabricated model will be due on Dec 9th and 10th (at the 200a final review), and may feature elements of your finalized design proposal that will be subject to constant and potentially last-minute revisions. It will be up to you to balance the inclusion of any possible changes to your design (which may encourage you to delay the final fabrication of this model) with the time required to model, fabricate, and assemble the model.

For this reason, we have set an early due-date (as seen in the schedule below) for a "production plan", rather than for a finalized fabricated model. The goal of this early deliverable date is to demonstrate in concrete terms exactly what your model will show, and how it will show it. At a minimum, your 'production plan' should include:


  • An approved RhinoCAM model for CNC
  • An approved print file for 3d printing

Printed Presentation Material

  • A complete visualization model of your proposal in Rhino, and described through prepared 2d drawings
  • Screenshots of the approved RhinoCAM model showing toolpaths
  • Screenshots of the approved print file for 3d printing
  • Lasercut files laid out on appropriate sheet sizes and printed at 1/4 scale

Realized Tests and Materials

  • Ideally, a test cut of the milled part of your model using the proposed material system
  • A test cut of the lasercut part of your model using the proposed material system
  • All stock materials for CNC mill and lasercut should be purchased, prepared for the mill, and on-hand for presentation.


7 November CNC Introduction
Computer Numeric Control (CNC) milling is a subtractive process of using a rotary bit that goes back and forth, up and down, cutting material (wood, foam) away from a base. The CNC milling process can also engrave objects and create relief effects. We will cover the basics of preparing topography files for milling in Rhino and then in RhinoCAM. We will discuss a range of possible uses for the mill.
8 November Capstone Helpdesk 1
For the fabricators, this helpdesk represents an opportunity for individual groups to get feedback on proposals for test cut objects.

For the animators, in the first part of help desk we will take about 45 minutes to discuss / workshop the animation storyboards, and by the end of this session everyone should be relatively clear on how they are conceptually framing their animation and how they plan to represent each of the three components.

14 November Milling Strategies
All processes of fabrication carry constraints. An essential constraint when working with a 3-axis mill is the maximum vertical clearance between the bed and the drill bit, which determines the maximum millable thickness for any material assembly. Given the 4" clearance allowed by the CNC mill in the fabrication shop, and the fact that our site models are likely to violate this thickness in their representation of the highly topographic surface of Pt Bonita, this workshop is dedicated to a thorough discussion of strategies for realizing models that exceed 4" in every dimension.
15 November Capstone Helpdesk 2
For the fabricators,

For the animators - Introduction to Bongo

19 November 3d Printing
In this session we will prepare models for 3D Printing. We'll discuss analysis tools to ensure edges are manifold and not naked. We'll discuss ways to model efficiently and with precision.
22 November Capstone Helpdesk 3
For the fabricators,

For the animators,

25 November Production Plan Approval
This is the last day to get approval from Chris Palmer on the validity of your production plan.
26 November Capstone Project Review & Problem Set
200c is wrapping up. Today we'll take on our final problem set covering techniques discussed in Topic Four. We'll also have our final in-house review of the capstone projects, at which time you'll receive your sign-off to shift into full production mode for the Final Exhibition.
1-8 December Final Production
Access to the CNC mill after November 26th will be limited, and will be 'rationed' among the students participating in this capstone. Plan conservatively , be on the lookout for postings regarding available times, and expect frequent updates and changes - these are inevitable given the unstable nature of the fabrication process.
9-10 December 200a Final Review
Completed model on display