A Cyborg’s Material

Over the past two months I have been working out the interior finishes of the quiet room. My choice of finish after numerous tests for sound qualities is acrylic (PMMA). With transducers attached to the back of the panel, it sounds amazing. Another feature of acrylic that I like is how clean it feels. Even as a synthetic product, there is a certain comfort I find in it. Acrylic is found in many medical implants (see PMMA bone cement) as it is compatible with human tissue. I like this idea of acrylic merging with human tissue. Acrylic: a cyborg’s material of choice.

Floor sheets temporarily placed. I will be sanding them down

So two months is a long time to be messing around with a couple walls, a ceiling, and a floor. First I was delayed by a supplier, and then I created my own delays during fabrication. It turns out, building with acrylic is difficult. Perhaps there is a reason we don’t see it prolifically as a building material. While it is flexible and resilient as a sheet, once you start to operate on it, it acquires a mind of its own.

Bending acrylic introduces a lot of stress in the panel. Turns out you can’t create notches at the end. It works like a weak link in a chain. Stresses in the panel follow the notch and ride it all the way across the panel.

The material is not terribly forgiving. I have been routing out slots to permit the ventilation system to work, but every tiny bump on the router creates a chip that cannot be patched up. One must cut with conviction, knowing you get one shot at it.

Routing ventilation slots in the floor panels

I have an 8-ft long heating coil that came over from China. Applying about 75 volts gets me a nice hot coil to heat up the acrylic and fold it. Trouble is, bending over such a long length creates a lot of stress in the sheet. Sometimes it goes well, but if the material has heated unevenly, which seems often to be the case, I get problems.

Bending acrylic with a heat coil.
The heat coil setup includes a bucket of water with a pump at the bottom to keep the surrounding aluminum housing from overheating.

The solution for now is do less bending, and work on getting the prototype finished. The next steps are attaching the transducers to the wall panels, and getting ready for LED lighting.

Ceiling panel installed. I hand drilled a few thousand holes to allow the ceiling to provide some sound absorption.

What else about using acrylic in this application is like a cyborg? I have to return to the original definition of cyborg by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline. Paraphrasing, a cyborg is a system made up partly of a man and partly of a machine which enables a being to live in an environment different from its normal one. I think it is interesting to think of a cyborg as not necessarily a surgically modified person. Could a cyborg simply be the enclosure (architecture) and a normal person inside of it? The acrylic then acts as a medium between man and machine, providing feedback between body and environment. More soon on this idea.

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