Payette Prototyping Architectural Designs with Precision Board

Boston-based architecture firm Payette leverages their in-house fabrication capabilities to build mock-ups and models as part of their design process. PBLT-15 Precision Board HDU is a staple in their material inventory for CNC-machining, used for everything from topographical models to full-scale façade studies.


“Models and prototypes help all parties understand the problem and have a voice in its resolution,” says Parke MacDowell, Fabrication Manager at Payette. “This is an incredibly powerful way to facilitate decision-making.”

MacDowell values Precision Board for its easy-machining and low environmental impact. “As designers, our quality standards are incredibly high; Precision Board helps us to achieve those standards efficiently. Furthermore, the properties of the material make for fast, tidy machining and a comfortable work environment at the shop.”

Some of the more complex prototypes Payette has recently explored include flip-milled acoustical panels. These test-pieces benefit from Precision Board being available in different thicknesses, eliminating the need for labor-intensive glue-laminating.  The studies are based on principals of acoustical diffusion, using faceted geometry to manage noisy environments by scattering sound waves, which reduces sound intensity.

From a blog Parke wrote last year on this project:

Sound privacy and noise level are among the qualities occupants are least satisfied with in existing buildings. More shocking than this is the relative lack of research into aural comfort compared to related topics like visual and thermal comfort. With this in mind, we decided to use our existing FabLab space with its very noisy CNC Router as a testing ground to develop tools and strategies applicable to the larger practice of architecture for addressing aural comfort.

These physical studies expand on past CNC tests and digital simulations. The new geometries push the limits of our fabrication capabilities and test out some novel machining approaches. We set specific goals and restrictions on the project to ensure our results would be relevant and applicable to the architectural typologies on which our firm focuses – i.e. Science and Healthcare. We set criteria that our solution be build-able and made from durable and cleanable materials. We also took this as an opportunity to develop digital tools to assist in the design and assessment of our studies resulting in grasshopper logics, fabrication techniques and verification algorithm being developed.

Over the past few months, we’ve been developing a new iteration of acoustical mock-ups, building on our previous physical studies and digital simulations. In the video above, we’re flip-milling (cutting both sides of the material) 6″ thick high-density foam (Ed note: PBLT-15 Precision Board HDU). After cutting the back-side, this time lapse shows us milling the front, with custom surfacing tool paths in evidence. Careful planning and alignments were needed to achieve the slit apertures that you see here.

Payette’s work on healthcare and laboratory projects drove the research agenda. MacDowell explains: “These intensive-use programs require durable, easy-to-maintain surface materials. Materials that satisfy these needs tend to reflect sound rather than absorbing it, which results in environments with harsh and noisy acoustics. We’re trying to improve acoustical performance while maintaining requisite material properties by using geometry to break-up the sound.”

Payette is a leading architectural design firm whose practice focuses on technologically and programmatically complex buildings for scientific research, higher education, healthcare, and corporate research clients. For more than three quarters of a century, Payette has practiced innovation in these highly technical buildings while developing a culture based on deep readings of program as one of the essential subtexts of architecture. This thorough understanding of how hospitals and laboratories work has helped clients transcend function to transform places and improve people’s lives. For more information, please visit their website or give them a call at 617-895-1000.

Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board HDU, a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly urethane material used extensively in the tooling industry.  It is a closed-cell rigid substrate that does not rot, warp or crack.  You can request free samplesget a quote or sign up for periodic newsletters packed with helpful information.