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Original Engineering for Original Designs

by Suzanne Van Gilder

Part architecture, part engineering, Los Angeles-based firm Moore + Friesl operates as an intermediary between designers and fabricators to bring seemingly unachievable projects into being. Founded in 2011, the full-service practice focuses on digital technology to take complex and multi-faceted designs from concept to completion. “My parents have a friend who is a blacksmith. He worries that no one knows how to make things anymore,” says Marcus Friesl, principle of Moore + Friesl. “To me, the computer does nothing that the craftsperson behind it does not intend. That skills set, combined with the capabilities of modern materials and machines, takes design to the next level. It is still a practice of craftsmanship and care.” (To learn more about Marcus Friesl, see Architect Spec, page 10).

Beyond architecture, the real differentiating value of what Marcus Friesl does might best be described as Original Design Engineering. In simplified terms, the process goes like this. A client brings a general idea for a complicated design, say an impossible object made out of unobtanium. Marcus Friesl uses Inventor software from AutoDesk to create a three-dimensional digital model that reflects the complex geometries of the impossible object. From this, he is able to divine possible construction methods and practical material specifications. Unobtainium is notoriously difficult to source, but for this hypothetical project, routed Corian laid up on polyurethane foam and supported by a grid of Ultra-Core HDF meets the weight, performance and aesthetic requirements. Once Friesl digitally engineers a possible object, he creates files for each component part in the preferred software language of each fabricator. “To all the wood people we send out native Inventor part files, which is typically imported directly into AlphaCam. Our metal gets exported out in Pro/E neutral files,” says Friesl. “Bypassing the different fabricators’ engineering departments saves time, and all the parts come from the same digital model. When the finished components are delivered to the site, they come together as one cohesive design.” To complete the project, Moore +Friesl provides its own crew and on-site oversight for the installation.


The following examples of challenging designs illustrate how Moore + Friesl uses digital engineering to push the boundaries of what is possible. Father and son, fabricator and engineer, are both quick to point out that the materials are modern, but not new. In addition to the theoretical clues provided by digital modeling, these projects are successful in application because of the practical wisdom gained from the consultation of experienced craftspeople.


Sophisticated Fabrication

To perform this intermediary design/engineering function well, Marcus Friesl continually learns about the latest technologies and processes, and seeks partners that do the same. “Touring shops in Germany with Homag is really inspiring. It opens our eyes to what is possible,” says Friesl. “A lot of what we do also depends on the sophistication of the fabricators. If they aren’t good, we fail. It is a very symbiotic relationship. We need fabricators who are open-minded and incredibly good at what they do.”

A regular partner for Moore + Friesl is GSF ltd, a Toronto-based custom millwork fabricator that happens to be owned by Marcus Friesl’s father, Nick Friesl. A second-generation German cabinet-maker, Nick Friesl spent 40 percent of his career as an engineering and production manager for a major North American furniture manufacturer. He acquired GSF and its 20,000 square-foot plant in 1986, and historically produced high-end store fixtures. “The really interesting projects are only happening now in the last three years, since Marcus started his collaborations. He helps designers understand what is possible.” says Nick Friesl. “How it has changed our operations is unbelievable. Although we have everything for a proper woodworking outfit, the only machine I use now is a Homag BMG 511 5-Axis CNC processing center. We are quite busy, and yet I have not done any woodworking or veneering in over a year.”

Marcus Friesl’s technical prowess is also shaping the firm’s go-to-market strategy. Conventional methods of bidding, which reward the lowest submission, do not work for a practice geared toward highest quality. Likewise, getting involved as a subcontractor can put several degrees of separation between a design and its production – including making it impossible for Moore + Friesl to designate fabricators based on their technical capabilities. On several occasions, Moore + Friesl ended up with jobs that were initially awarded to competitors who bid low, but inevitably failed because they did not anticipate the complexity of the project. Now Moore + Friesl works directly with clients (end users and designers) to develop and manage each project from concept to installation.

“It is a testament to what is happening in the industry right now,” says Nick Friesl. “You need very good people in engineering. That impacts the designs upstream, the skills downstream and the quality of the end product.”

The following examples of challenging designs illustrate how Moore + Friesl uses digital engineering to push the boundaries of what is possible. Father and son, fabricator and engineer, are both quick to point out that the materials are modern, but not new. In addition to the theoretical clues provided by digital modeling, these projects are successful in application because of the practical wisdom gained from the consultation of experienced craftspeople.


Museum of the Moving Image

This project presented the Moore + Friesl team with several challenges. “We had to come up with triangular panels fastened to an ever-changing curved ceiling,” says Nick Friesl. “The difficulty was that it was not just a triangular panel. There was a chamfer around it, so the outside is pretty thin, then it rises up by three inches and becomes flat again. There are 1137 unique panels that have to curve exactly to hug the shape of the rounded ceiling.”

The digital engineering process gave the Moore+ Friesl team information that allowed them to address big issues with precise material specifications. First, the team established what to use for the basic structure. Aluminum was chosen because it is lightweight and easy to manufacture. Next, they addressed the design directive for the surface to carry sound-absorbing felt dyed to a specific color. “Most felt is matted, which disintegrates over time,” says Nick Friesl. “We found a manufacturer in Denmark that produces woven felt, which is more integral and fire retardant. Something had to give the felt shape. We also needed a fire retardant plastic material. The answer was Kydex.” Based on the digital model, the team created MDF molds and vacuum formed the Kydex into the proper shape. The pieces were hand trimmed, assembled and riveted to the aluminum structure. “Most of the triangles had to be curved one way or another. With the exception of the straight panels, they all had different curves,” says Nick Friesl. “Every one had a different address in the application. Every one had its own program. We worked day and night. But in the end, the project was a complete success, and we have forgotten all the hardship.”  n


Van Cleef & Arpels

The high-end retail fixtures described in the design brief for Van Cleef & Arpels were nearly physically impossible. The legs had to be extraordinarily thin, yet still accommodate internal wiring. To achieve this, Marcus Friesl designed specific molds for casting the two halves of each leg in aluminum. The parts were welded together, ground, polished and painted to be an exact match to the horizontal surfaces.

Corian was specified for the surfaces, which is doable, but the concept also included a significant five-inch skirt of material. “Corian makes sense in some applications, but with a lot of shapes, if you are gluing Corian together and milling, it is just a waste of money,” says Marcus Friesl. “We found that a substrate of high-density polyurethane foam could be specified in the same density as the resin. It can be glued into different thicknesses, shaped precisely with the 5-axis CNC router, and finished to resemble Corian. Another advantage is that the foam is a very neutral material.” Other shaped parts of the design were achieved by stacking and gluing MDF, then milling it. A netting, or coating, is applied to smooth the seams and prevent telegraphing.  n


New York Investment Firm

“The reception desk is basically split into six parts with a Corian shell supported by a grid of Plum Creek’s HDF Ultra-Core that we call a honeycomb. Essentially it is a top and bottom plate with mini gables on the inside. The wire chases and all of the needs for venting are embedded into the structure,” says Marcus Friesl. “They wanted stainless steel surfaces, but that was too heavy. So we accomplished the same effect as a 3-inch top by miter-folding a 16-gauge brushed stainless steel sheet.”

Within the project, the conference table carries over many of the same material specifications and construction solutions. All of the additional requirements for the piece, microphones cut outs, outlets, screw holes, structural slots and more, were modeled into the origin file, making installation quick and easy.


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