O'Donnell and Miller Open Primitive Hut at Art Omi

large drilling machine cutting out pieces of wood
A robotic CNC machine drills the components used in Primitive Hut. photo / OMG!
stacks of wooden component pieces
The wooden components that will be used to create Primitive Hut await transport to Art Omi. photo / OMG!
a man with two partially constructed walls made of circular wooden pieces
Martin Miller assembles Primitive Hut in Architecture Field 01. photo / OMG!
Wooden structure made of circular components set in a field with trees behind it
The team finishes the installation of Primitive Hut at the Architecture Fields. photo / OMG!
two people seen through wooden lattice work
From left, Alexander Terry (M.Arch. '19) and O'Donnell assemble the pavilion. photo / Brian Havener (M.Arch. '17)
interconnected wooden circles form a lattice
Detail of the interconnected wooden components of Primitive Hut. photo / Zachary Tyler Newton (M.Arch. '11)
October 24, 2017

Primitive Hut, a pavilion designed to simultaneously decompose and grow over the next two years, opened on Saturday at Art Omi in Ghent, New York. The project was created by OMG!, a collaboration between Visiting Critic Martin Miller's firm Antistatics and Edgar A. Tafel Associate Professor Caroline O'Donnell's firm CODA.

"Primitive Hut questions architecture's relationship with time through material explorations of growth and decay," according to the project summary. "The structure actively transforms through states of solid, frame, and void — as each element decomposes, it nourishes a complementary state of growth."

The 160-square-foot pavilion consists of three parts; a structural lattice made from interlocking components, carved from standard plywood; a secondary decomposing lattice constructed from a composite of sawdust (waste from the plywood components), bio-resin, and hemp; and an infill of manure cylinders. As the sawdust lattice decomposes, it serves as a growth medium and nutritional source for four red maple saplings that will eventually grow up to provide the primary support for the pavilion.

The components used to construct Primitive Hut build on traditional notched wood joinery and were designed to precisely interlock with one another creating a closed structure without the need for glue or mechanical fasteners. To create the 2,000 components needed for the structure, the OMG! team robotically milled and combined 5,000 individual parts. This volume of production required a novel approach to the milling process, a methodology that involved leveraging the shape of the tooling bit itself as a means of rapid fabrication. Utilizing robotic technologies, the organically shaped pieces were produced through the use of a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine. By intervening in the fabrication process between the software and the tool, the number of passes by the mill tool was vastly reduced, leading to dramatic improvement in the speed of fabrication.

"This refinement and specific control of the robotic CNC tool not only optimized the fabrication process but embraced the expression of the tool itself, resulting in a form embedded with the trace of the digital craftsman," says Miller. "The end result expresses the material's layers and produces the curvaceous ribbed effect of exuberance through efficiency."

According to O'Donnell, the project is an example of a "nose-to-tail" approach — a term borrowed from the culinary world — in which their use of waste sawdust within the pavilion itself and in a future project, and the planting of trees to exceed the wood used, "provokes thinking about the relationship between architecture and nature as more symbiotic and mutually dependent." The project resembles a famous etching with the same title, in which the first architecture is made from the manipulation of trees.

"While Professor Miller and I have different areas of expertise," explains O'Donnell, "this collaboration really allowed us to productively explore one of our overlapping research agendas: the architecture of change, whether through mechanical or natural means, whereby the work is designed to respond to its dynamic environment."

The OMG! team was led by Travis Nissen (M.Arch. '17), and included Dylan Arceneaux (M.Arch. '20), Diego Garcia Blanco (M.Arch. '18), Emma Boudreau (M.Arch. '19), Mwanzaa Brown (M.Arch. '18), Sarah Bujnowski (M.Arch. '19), Tess Clancy (M.Arch. '18), Stephen Clond (M.Arch. '18), Gretchen Craig (B.Arch. '13), Tianqi Cui (M.Arch. '19), Joseph Diamond (M.Arch. '20), Eliana Drier (M.Arch. '18), Olivier Ducharme (M.Arch. '20), Luke Erickson (M.Arch. '16), Lucy Flieger (B.Arch. '19), Vanille Fricker (B.Arch. '19), Ramses Gonzalez (M.Arch. '19), Brian Havener (M.Arch. '17), Poyen Hsieh (M.Arch. '19), Isabella Hubsch (B.Arch. '19), Isabel Branas Jarque (M.Arch. '19), Michael Jefferson, Eleanor Krause (M.Arch. '19), Wachira Leangtanom (M.Arch. '17), Nicolas Leonard (M.Arch. '19), Jason Lin (M.Arch. '20), Xiaoxue Ma (M.Arch. '19), Heather Mauldin (M.Arch. '18), Evan McDowell (B.Arch. '29), Alexandre Mecattaf (M.Arch. '18), Melanie Monastirsky (M.Arch. '18), Chris Morse (M.Arch. '17), Hafsa Muhammad (M.Arch. '19), Maureen O'Brien (M.Arch. '20), Anbar Oreizi-Esfahani (M.Arch. '20), Ximeng Pan (M.Arch. '19), Edward Aguilera Perez (M.Arch. '20), Dillon Pranger (M.Arch. '15), Shovan Shah (M.Arch. '18), Alireza Shojakhani (M.Arch. '18), Visiting Critic Peter Stec, Alexander Terry (M.Arch. '19), Daniel Torres (B.Arch. '14), Kashyap Valiveti (M.Arch. '20), Haoran Wang (M.Arch. '19), Christopher Yi (M.Arch. '19), Derek Yi (M.Arch. '18), and Yang Zhao (M.Arch. '17).

Primitive Hut is the result of a commission from Art Omi: Architecture, who requested a pavilion that would remain in place for two years and is part of the curated exhibition Shelters. Their pavilion joins five others previously installed.

Art Omi is a not-for-profit arts organization with residency programs for international visual artists, writers, translators, musicians, and dancers. The 200–acre campus includes the Architecture Fields, dedicated to the commissioning of constructions, installations, and pavilions by architects, and the Fields Sculpture Park, dedicated to art by sculptors and artists. Open year-round, the park provides visitors the opportunity to experience the impact of important international contemporary sculpture in a striking natural setting. A piece of Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Associate Professor Jenny Sabin's Lumen is also on display at Art Omi.

By Rebecca Bowes