The Edge: Robert Yuen’s Research and Design

June 24, 2014 6 min read

Robert Yuen Research and Design Casting Unpredictability

Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do

Robert Yuen: I am the sole-proprietor of RYRD – Robert Yuen Research and Design – where I explore the use of digital technologies in design and architecture. By day, I work as a designer at Edmonds + Lee Architects – a full service architectural office located in San Francisco, CA. I am also the Founder and President of Section Cut, a web-based company that serves as a curated collection of resources for architects and designers.

I have a background in robotic fabrication and digital tooling from the University of Michigan, where I earned a Master of Architecture and a Master of Science in Architecture with a focus in Digital Technologies. My work in this realm is particularly invested in the intersection of digital tools and physical processes.

I started Section Cut to curate tools and knowledge from my extended network (which includes some of the most exciting and forward-thinking minds of our discipline) to better educate and spread awareness of resources for designers. Section Cut exists at the intersection of practice and academia— we differentiate ourselves from other design sites through our commitment to refrain from web advertising and create a beautiful, intuitive interface, all the while highlighting notable figures, unpacking design workflows, and curating the most valuable resources out there for designers.

Robert Yuen Research and Design Profile

Photo by Stanley Law

Novedge: In your research you bring together multiple disciplines and address the use or disuse of certain materials in contemporary architecture. Can you talk about your interest in the topic and your approach to it?

Robert Yuen: Personally, I find it a struggle to define hard boundaries between what is and is not architecture. This has led me to an interest in cross-disciplinary collaboration as a way to push the boundaries of our territory as architects. I find that seeking out materials or applications, and reappropriating these into the context of architectural practice, is an incredibly exciting way to work. My approach is to view the novel opportunities with respect to materials or disciplines traditionally outside the architectural realm as a potential partners in production, and to consistently operate in a collaborative mode. 

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CASTING UNPREDICTABILITY from Adam Smith on VimeoCredits: MSc Project with Cinematography by Adam Smith of Synecdoche Design. Production Assistants: William Liow, Jono Bentley Sturt, Charlie Veneklase, Erica Wannemacher.

Novedge: From your projects I get a sense of your ability to bring together strong collaborators with a variety of interests and expertise. What's your secret?

Robert Yuen: I’m not sure if there’s a secret to bringing people together. Fundamentally, I believe that all projects should be done collaboratively; I’m not interested in practicing independently. Maybe the technique is to personally and fundamentally value multiple perspectives, thus feeding an ambition to seek out collaborators and experts as required.

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Taubman College Studio Scan from Robert Yuen on VimeoCredits: March Project Scanned of the Graduate Studio spaces at Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning.

Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on? 

Robert Yuen: Casting Unpredictability, the focal point of my postgraduate research at the University of Michigan, explores castable and malleable materials (e.g. concrete, plaster, rockite and etc..) through contemporary technology in robotics, scanning, digital fabrication and design. The project challenges the ubiquitous nature of standardized sheet material and architecture’s current inability to engage inexact materials systematically as a design opportunity. Undergoing unpredictable means of generating form, the project set forth to re-purpose specific technologies, explore 3D visioning and scanning, and to robotically shape each concrete brick in various axes with a waterjet cutter.

The Cast Archive was produced to digitally archive each uniquely cast unit. The collection attempts to aggregation of pieces and attempts to display the fertile ground between digital and the physical workflows.

Robert Yuen Research and Design

Robert Yuen Research and Design Robot_Range-01

Robert Yuen Research and Design Plan_Diagams_01 4

Prior to Casting Unpredictability, I worked on a project entitled Points + Clouds: Tactical Hermeneutics. The project hacked a Microsoft Kinect to leverage its ability to scan spaces. An investigation into the slippage between analog reality and the digital environment, the project became rooted in the occurrence of mis-truths, errors, and holes that revealed new poetic possibilities between analog and digital space. Read more about my MArch thesis here

Robert Yuen Research and Design HOWTO_banner2-01

Novedge: What software do you use? 

Robert Yuen: Software selection is always a moving target. Different platforms come and go and will be augmented or phased out as technology evolves. The larger task is to understand conceptually what a particular piece of software is doing and how it is doing it – to determine how you might incorporate it in a workflow. That’s the only way to stay relevant as technology moves forward. With that said, at present day I’m constantly moving in and out of Revit, Autocad, Rhino, Grasshopper, and Adobe Suite for various tasks.

One software that readers may enjoy is Kuka PRC, which was recently featured on Section Cut by one of our most recent GIANTS, Wes McGee – an Assistant Professor in Architecture and the Director of the FABLab at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College. This Rhino plugin allows users to simulate robotic motion control and gain an understanding of robotics – even if they don’t have access to a robotic arm (yet). 

Novedge: I discovered your work through your site, Section Cut. What is your vision for the site? How can people get involved?

Robert Yuen: Section Cut is my most recent endeavor. The vision for Section Cut is to be a significant touchstone for design professionals, educators, and students. Through curated contributions from vetted design professionals, the team actively builds an instrument – a Collection of resources that we believe should be elevated and present in the minds of today’s designers. We continuously grow our collection by asking designers we respect for the resources that have been most valuable to their practice; this elite group of curators provide their hard-earned expertise to our audience to ensure Section Cut maintains the highest standards for our collection. 

The easiest way to get involved is to contact me at robert@sectioncut.com and on twitter @Robert_Yuen. We are a core team of four individuals who each have specifically defined roles, but as President, I can direct traffic. We’re are always interested in potential contributions to the collection, thematic ideas for a new Weekly Section Cut, a much needed How To, or our next Giant to interview. 

Robert Yuen Research and Design Page-Spanning-Logo_home-page-only-01

Novedge: In your experience, what are the biggest challenges architecture professionals are facing today? 

Robert Yuen: Given the current state of affairs in our profession, architects are having more and more trouble maintaining our agency, our leverage, and the terms of our expertise. This is not to say that architects are any less relevant than in previous times, but our influence on the built environment is less respected and valued in certain arenas these days. In response, I see more architects moving into alternative modes of practice— taking on the role of redesigning their own relationships with clients, contractors, and the scope of our territory. This is a challenging time, but also an exciting one to decide how you want to work as a designer.

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Rob|Arch 2014 Workshops – Full Length from Taubman College on Vimeo.

Novedge: What innovations do you find most exciting?

Robert Yuen: I personally find the front-line research in robotics extraordinarily exciting! Section Cut was recently invited as media sponsor for the Rob|Arch 2014, hosted at the University of Michigan. The conference presented a series of workshops and presentations that aimed at exposing the advanced capabilities of applied robotic research. Some of the most exciting work involved three-dimensional weaving of carbon fiber, casting without formwork, and interactive animation. Visit our coverage page to explore interviews for a deeper dive into that conference, and stay tuned for our next event in collaboration with the Architectural Association Visiting School in New York City. 

To see more of Robert's work, visit his website and follow him on Twitter. If you are interested in Section Cut, don't forget to head to the website and to connect with the Section Cut team on Twitter and Facebook

For more Novedge news, follow us on Twitter.

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