Christian Ervin
Selected Portfolio
A collaboration with Jose Luis Garcia del Castillo and Krista Palen.

WX is a numerically-controlled wax sculpture machine. It takes advantage of the surprising effects produced when hot wax and water combine to create emergent, thin-shelled wax forms.

Exhaustive material research with various types of wax and water mixtures at controlled temperatures and rates of mixing gave our team tremendous insight into the behavioral effects of these materials as they interact. In calibrating these parameters and their related effects, the resulting volume is a highly efficient, thin-walled cellular structure; a frozen animation of the complex fluid dynamics at play when two materials mix.

Water is more dense than wax, and wax is hydrophobic; when melted wax is immersed in water, the wax rises up to the surface of the water. The material behavior is dependent on the relative temperatures of the wax and the water. If the water is hot, near the melting point of the wax, nearly all of the wax will rise to the surface and disperse. If the water is extremely cold, the surface of the wax will solidify immediately. By regulating the relative temperatures of the molten wax and water, we are able to produce forms somewhere in between--the wax changes states in the process of rising to the surface of the water.

Additionally, the rate of descent of the tray lowering the wax sample into the water affects the resulting geometry: a slow rate of descent allows for the wax to disperse along the surface of the water, creating wider shapes, and a fast rate of descent makes for more narrow shapes. Going too fast, however, generates turbulence in the mixing materials, causing unpredictable, chaotic effects.

Rejecting the paradigm of absolute control afforded by contemporary material deposition machines, our team took an approach that embraced the marvel of stochasticity in mixing materials; the formal effects of the process are predictable but not explicitly controllable. While the project in its current state produces relatively small and fragile wax objects, we believe that the approach could be extended with significant architectural implications. The wax could be used in an investment casting process to produce more robust and architectural scale metal elements, for example. It is our belief that a new generation of digital fabrication methods should similarly experiment with non-explicit control, either through stochastic material processes or the unpredictable, dynamic effects of real time human interaction. Furthermore, the metaphor of this stochastic process could be adapted to the architectural design and construction process. Imagine a digitally-controlled scenario in which target characteristics were predictable, but the specific execution of those goals was not. For example, a house that meets certain building criteria but doesn’t align with a specific formal or stylistic reference.

WX is a project in which geometries are derived from a material-specific combinatory fabrication process, influenced by real-time human interaction. This project investigates the properties that arise in the dynamic merging of two fluid mediums—wax and water. It favors a stochastic framework of control, where three-dimensional forms emerge from the interaction of these materials. To date, a fully operational machine prototype and user interface have been built, which produced several wax sculptures.

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By controlling wax type, wax temperature, water temperature, color additives, and the speed of descent of the sample tray, the machine is capable of producing a variety of objects.

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Details of material effects produced by the machine.