Jin Young Song's steel assembly proposal wins Forge Prize (Phase 1)

The systems was designed based on technical requirements and properties of steel, but creates beautiful forms and patterns.

Published March 20, 2019 This content is archived.

A proposal by professor Jin Young Song that envisions a more efficient assembly system for steel construction has been announced as a 2019 Forge Prize Phase 1 Winner.

The two-stage competition is organized by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) to engage designers in design innovation for steel as a 21st century building material. The prize was established by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

Song, an assistant professor of architecture at UB, proposes Snap-Interlock Module System (SIMS), a structural module with a unique interlocked configuration that is easily assembled by a single worker.

The prototype is based on the elastic instability of steel, or the buckling of the material when subjected to large compressive loads. Song's proposal distributes forces through stacked modules. Each module has four hooked legs on the top and bottom and snaps into four legs from four adjacent modules. The five modules are interlocked as one unit, where individual steel modules brace each other. The central unit of the module can be modified to create specific angles and generate a curved geometry.

SIMS is one of three Phase 1 Winners alongside proposals by Jingyu Lee of Magnusson Klemencic Associates and Valeria Rybyakova from Perkins Eastman.

The winning concepts were selected by a jury of luminaries: Joseph G. Burns, Managing Principal at Thornton Tomasetti in Chicago; Eui-Sung Yi, Design Principal at Morphosis Architects; and Terri Meyer Boake, a professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo.

More than 60 years after Konrad Wachsmann imagined a modular construction system, building structures are still based on the steel post and beam system with conventional bolt/weld connections. Even after significant development in digital and manufacturing technologies, most advancements in the construction industry simply add new subcomponents to this primary building system. However, new smart fabrication techniques and advanced digital design tools allow Song and his team to revisit Wachsmann’s holistic approach for a unit-based ‘part-to-whole’ system.

Song developed two arch shaped prototypes using 3d printed modules that exhibit the system's geometric flexibility. Further structural analysis and new interpretation will be necessary to demonstrate how this ‘part to whole’ system can be applied to the building structure, facade, substructure, architectural partition walls, and more. Collaborators in the work are UB's Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies research group, UB associate professor of structural engineering Jongmin Shim and Xiandong He, a doctoral student in engineering at UB. 

Phase 1 of the 2019 Forge Prize selects three designs that receive a stipend, and are paired with a steel fabricator to further refine the structural aspects of the concept, and improve viability in a real-world application. In Phase 2, contestants will prepare a final submission and present to the jury in May 2019.

The three finalists will present their designs, and the jury will announce the winner at the AIA Conference on Architecture, June 6-8, 2019, in Las Vegas.