A prototype of the seed ball, printed by Emerging Objects

Architect Andrew Kudless founded his Oakland-based studio, Matsys, in 2004 to work on bio-inspired architectural production techniques that turn traditional approaches to construction upside-down.

"Architecture usually follows a top-down design process," Kudless says. "You have some type of genius idea, then everything is relegated to that one idea. There's no consideration for how it might change over time."

Matsys' work attempts to fuse engineering, biology, computational science and architecture.

One such exploration, the "Seed" project, resulted in a large, organic 3D printed concrete ball which took its design inspiration from the shape of redwood seeds. The parts of the enormous "seed" are clipped together after being built from modular components.

Kudless, an architect based in San Francisco, is also an associate professor at the California College of the Arts who won a 1998 Fulbright Fellowship to research architectural design and urbanism in the Kansai region of Japan.

Inspired by the vitality of the Redwood Grove at the UC Botanical Garden, Kudless says his "Seed" project is a reflection of the "fertility, wonder, and strength of the redwoods through the placement of this mysterious concrete object within the Grove."

"My work explores the material processes and systems of life. I understand art, design, and architecture to be part of a larger body of material formation linked to biologic, geologic, and computational bodies," Kudless said. "I move back and forth between traditional ways of making – and newer digital techniques – that allow for a dynamic exchange between the generative design, simulation, and fabrication of objects and spaces."

The "Seed" itself is made up of 32 thin-shelled, fiber-reinforced concrete panels built from plaster patterns made from casting liquid plaster into fabric forms. The fabric expands under the mass of the plaster slurry until it "finds a state of equilibrium with the tensioned fabric." It's this interplay of the pressure of the liquid versus the tension in the fabric fibers which apes the dynamic forces at work within the cell structures of organic bodies.

Seed ball components

Working from Kudless' design, architect Ron Rael of Emerging Objects pitched in on the fabrication of the 3D printed concrete prototypes, and Mark Rogero of ConcreteWorks helped with the fabrication of the finished product. Kudless says David Shook offered engineering support, and Shirley Watts and Mary Anne Friel were the curators and organizers of the exhibition at the Botanical Garden at UC.