YAF Atlanta Design-Build Challenge. Winners. 1st Place

Project Name: PeriScope: Foam Tower

Team Name: Matter Design

Leader: Brandon Clifford

Team Memebers:, Wes McGee, Dave Pigram, Mathew H. Johnson

Charged with the task of designing a rapidly deployable, temporary installation, on a limited budget, with a limited plot -- we propose a tower of foam.


The 10’x10’ site is cradled between a series of buildings and sunken 4’ below the pedestrian walk. Attendees to the Modern Atlanta event will discover any installation on this site; however, by expanding vertically via the omission of a vertical restriction, this tower will engage a broader audience, inviting them to the event similar to searchlights in the night sky. In addition to heightened visibility from the public, this installation proposes to operate as a periscope taking advantage of the geological ridge of Howell Mill Road with clear views to both the downtown and midtown skyline -- a device made possible through height. This tower will serve as a signifier for the Modern Atlanta event as well as a demonstrative device of contemporary digital fabrication culture.

Fabric Rhetoric

At first glance, the tower appears to be a tensile fabric pulled vertically by compressive rods, much in the same way a one conceives a deployable tent. In fact, the tower functions in opposition to the initial reading. Where the eye reads tensile fabric is truthfully compressive foam, and the compressive rods are actually performing as tensile cables. This rhetorical inversion invites spectators in for closer inspection to find the tower is not constructed of thin surfaces at all, but rather carved from solid blocks of EPS foam. Upon discovering this illusion, the spectator observes their first glimpse into the means and methods of fabrication that make the tower possible.


EPS foam is the backbone to this design. This foam is 90% air by volume, meaning it is inherently volumetric, inexpensive, and lightweight. In addition to these qualities, EPS foam contains no CFC’s and is 100% recyclable/reusable.

Foam is so also extremely lightweight, meaning few people can handle large assemblies. This premise responds to the competition brief’s requirement for a structure that can be rapidly deployed with a minimal number of workers. This approach takes advantage of larger than life size building blocks to achieve a quickly constructed, and relatively large installation.

A common critique of many digital fabrication exercises is the enormous material waste. We take this concern very seriously. In response - note that each coursing of our foam units nest precisely with its neighbor above and below. Beyond the efficiency of unit nesting, the methods of fabrication (robotic hotwire) produces no kerf waste and the minimal waste produced in starting and stopping a stock block produce 100% recyclable material. The research and development behind the means and methods of fabrication speak to our approach to design – reciprocity between drawing and making.


The tower is designed to be deployed by a two person team, in approximately 12 hours. The components will be shipped in a standard 48 foot semi trailer. The base is assembled first upon delivery. It consists of a steel sub-frame, sectioned to allow two people to carry the individual components, then bolted together. The subframe weighs 250 pounds, and is constructed of 1.5 inch square steel tube. On top of the subframe is a monocoque “tub” made of foam and sealed with a epoxy/glass coating. This tub is filled with water, which provides 16551 lbs. of ballast. The finished base is 10’x10’x3'-6".

Once the base is assembled, the crew can begin loading ballast, alternating between ballast and assembling of sections. These sections consist of horizontal slices through the tower; and sized for placement from the end of a telescoping manlift. Each section consists of several layers of EPS foam. The layers are held together by thin plywood layers, connected by a threaded rod. As each subassembly is placed, it is positioned and temporarily restrained by a central ratchet cable, tying it to the base of the tower. Once all subassemblies are placed, the post-tensioning cables are deployed from the top. These cables are pre-tensioned to remove slack. Once the cables are tensioned, the temporary restraint can be removed.

The viewing mirrors are installed next, anchored to the cables stays in the opening of the tower. The final step is to install the decking (upon approval of the panel) which spans the staircase, allowing visitors to approach the tower above the base.


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