Maker Faire Dodecahedron Project
IBL was asked to help develop a workshop for the Intro to Manufacturing class at Laney College. The concept was to create an exciting, hands-on project that would engage and excite students through experiential learning, as opposed to typical lecture style learning. Since Maker Faire, the largest DIY event in the Bay Area, was happening at the end of the semester, we decided to showcase the students’ work as a way to highlight the possibilities of digital fabrication. First, the students were tasked with deciding what they would like to build. After batting around many intriguing ideas the consensus was to build a giant dodecahedron (a geometric 12-sided figure), large enough into which people could walk. With the vision for what to build in place, and the looming deadline of the Maker Faire, we got to work to show off the engineering capabilities of a FabLab.
Building a 12 foot, 12-sided structure requires a comprehensive, interactive, and iterative process of planning and design work. Students were taught geometrical concepts like angles, and how those related to structural physics concepts like weight load. Students participating in the workshop did not have serious math backgrounds, so IBL modified the math portion of the curriculum to make it more accessible and visually comprehensible. During this design phase, we built a life-size model of the dodecahedron out of 2x4s as a way of visualizing some of the geometrical sides. Once we had a model, we then used estimates to determine how big the structure needed to be to allow someone to walk through it. This allowed the students to engage and interact with an actual structure rather than only making calculations on paper.
Our next step was to model up the technical designs in SketchUp, software for digital fabrication. The majority of the modeling process was done collectively and led by IBL since the students did not yet possess that technical skillset; however, students were providing insight and feedback during the modeling phase. We came up with several prototypes for different types of joinery that would hold the structure together, ultimately landing on the joinery that we used.
The conceptual phase seemed simple enough. But, here was the catch—the dodecahedron had to be assembled without the use of any glue, screws, or other attachments.
After purchasing $3,000 in high-quality plywood we were ready to start running the CNC router to begin fabricating the pieces. To complete this project, the CNC machine needed to run for about 180 hours. Once a week, students would travel from Laney to the Castlemont FabLab to use the facilities. We set up these production runs weekly and fabricated around 350 pieces all together. Over the five weeks of the production runs, students rounded over edges, sanded, and touched up the fabricated pieces. After all the pieces were built we were ready to assemble the dodecahedron.
We did a test assembly constructing all of our pentagons and connecting the remaining joinery to determine structural integrity, ensuring all parts fit as they should. Happily, there were no issues and most pieces fit like a glove. Students were thrilled with the result and the dodecahedron made its debut at the Maker Faire, receiving a great deal of interest and attention. In the Fall of 2016, the dodecahedron will be a permanent outdoor installation in a garden at Laney College.
The dodecahedron was one of the coolest projects that IBL has ever done, and students were inspired and proud of what we created together. When students are exposed to and engaged with digital fabrication and aspects of engineering, things they may have never thought they were capable doing, new possibilities are open to them. They see themselves in a different way—as individuals capable of building something really, really cool. They expressed a strong sense of pride and the sense that “we did this” when thousands of people walked through the exhibit at the Maker Faire and asked questions about how they built it. The dodecahedron was such a success that it was featured on the home page of makerfaire.com and in their newsletter.