Students test their design theories in Building 1 at Wolfson Campus. Earlier this spring, curious onlookers began to gather in the atrium of Building 1 at Wolfson Campus as students in Professor María Zabala’s Architectural Materials and Methods of Construction course ascended to the second floor. Bearing latticed wood contraptions of yet uncertain purpose, they one by one leaned over the poured cement parapet, tossing their gizmos over the side. The spectacle was not a spring break prank but a test of engineering prowess. In each of the basswood constructions, which the students had designed and built, an egg was gently cradled in the center. One by one the constructions crashed onto the tiled floor of the cordoned-off drop zone 15 feet below. Of the seven prototypes, two delivered their prized eggs safely uncracked, one of which later emerged intact from a subsequent plunge from the fourth floor. The other five were ready for the omelet pan. For Zabala, an associate professor of architecture at MDC’s North Campus, there were serious lessons to be mined from the hijinks. “I assign this project as part of our study of structures and trusses, when we discuss the different loads a building has to deal with,” Zabala said. “After the project, the students write reports analyzing how their constructions performed, what went wrong, which joints held and how successful their conceptions were.” The project imposed strict limitations on the students, who had to use lightweight basswood no more than a quarter-inch thick, and could not employ foam or other kinds of padding for the egg, which was suspended at the center of the designs with rubber bands. “The project demands that students be aware of fundamental design elements,” Zabala said. “The weight, flex in the joints, and even the aerodynamic aspects of the construction are all factors that determine how successful the design will be.”
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