Combinatorial Nest (Combo-nest)

3rd Prize
Competition entry for Tallinn Pavillion Program, Tallinn Biennial 2019

Project Director: Jose Sanchez
Principal Designer: Brendan Ho
Design Development: Ban Sheni, Jiachen Wei, Dechen Zeng
Video Game Simulation: Satrio Dewantono
Fabrication / Analysis: Diego Pinochet, Felipe Veliz
Support: Jian Chen, Rebekah Bookbinder

Serial Repetition + Combinatorics
Combo-Nest is a discrete open-ended tectonic system, that relies on the patterning of material units to grow volumetrically with different motifs. Unlike closed systems, such as a geodesic dome, that operate as a jigsaw puzzle, the units of Combo-Nest define an ‘open-whole’ susceptible to alteration, growth or pruning. This makes them conducive for a process of iterative design, searching for patterns or configurations that resonate with the local context. Our proposal believes that such a process of identifying culturally relevant patterns (what we could call beauty) is a process that is participatory and collaborative, in which architects can engage in a dialogue and develop consensus with the community.


The proposal presented, is not a final proposal but rather an example of the possible syntax of the Combo-Nest system. We expect to conduct a participatory event during the month of March / April, where the Tallinn community would be invited to get involved, generating literacy around the critical challenges of architecture today.

The critical challenges identified in this proposal  is that of achieving architectural value through affordable means, recalibrating the value proposition of architects away from the 1% of the richest clients and aiming to reconnect with the general public. This is proposed to be achieved through two strategies:

A - Reconsidering Serial Repetition: serialized production can effectively be more affordable than bespoke solutions, but suffers the risk of becoming homogenous or undifferentiated. By considering the combinatorics and permutations of discrete modules, serial repetition can be utilized as an expressive grammar.

B - Platforms for Cooperation: our team is putting forward a video game simulation that would be used during the participatory event and throughout the Tallinn Architecture Biennial to engage the public locally and globally. The game will contain a simulation of the Combo-Nest system, enabling players to develop their own proposals. After the event, the community together with the architects will select a proposal to built on site and manufacture before the opening in September.

The units designed for this Tallinn pavillion have considered a recomposition of a traditional A-Frame structure, playing with the notion of interiority that is identified in the slopes of surfaces. By using the volumetric space frame in a multiplicity of contexts (poche, space modulator, ground condition), the project suggested below interrogates a traditional distinction between inside and outside, recovering some of the primitive qualities of shelter and privacy provided by natural foliage.


Infrastructure for Participation
In order to involve the community of Tallinn, the project has developed a series of artifacts that will aid the contribution and participation of non-expert users. These artifacts are educational tools as well as a design aids for the composition of creative spatial combinations. The artifacts are:


-The Toy: We decided to use the model requested by the TAB as an opportunity to develop a toy version of the project, one that could demonstrate the combinatorial capabilities of the system. The model is delivered disassembled and we invite the jury and potentially the audience to play with the parts and build structures out of the parts provided.

Instructions for model assembly

Instructions for model assembly


-The Instructable: The toy model has been designed to build 8 units that compose the foundation of how the combinatorial nest grows. This gives the bases for a ‘voxel’ or volumetric structure. However, building such an arrangement is not trivial, therefore we have developed a series of instructable cards that aid the construction of the model. These cards operate as step-by-step sequences for patterns that have been discovered using the system. We anticipate the production of many more instructables as we explore, together with the local community, patterns that are meaningful in the local context.

Video game simulation of the combo-nest system within Common-hood engine.

Video game simulation of the combo-nest system within Common-hood engine.

-The Video Game: Not every member of a community will be engaged through the same medium. Some people might prefer to sketch and others will use the toy and develop physical constructions. Allowing for multiple mediums of engagement is crucial to attracting a wider range of participants to the participatory event. For this, we are also offering the use of a video game interface which will allow for the simulation of the system digitally. This video game is a research project from our team and is already in a functional stage. We propose to add the Combo-Nest system into the simulation to allow for global access before and during the biennale, inviting people from all over the world to contribute to design iterations for the TAB pavillion.

-The Pre-Engineered Tectonic System: The toy and the video game operate under the constraints of a pre-engineered tectonic system. By prototyping this system, we have been able to check that the combinatorial interactions between parts remain within feasible designs. Having an understanding of the costs of the units, it is possible to develop constraints to aid the design search developed with the community, arriving at the desired output.

Social Cooperation: Architecture for the Commons
This proposal, as mentioned above, is not a final design but rather an architectural framework for social cooperation, identifying the criticality of engaging communities in a process of self-provisioning architecture. This ‘do-it-yourself’ approach departs from a naive form of maker culture interested in hobbies and identifies the capacity of communities to organize themselves and engage in the production of architecture as a political statement for autonomy and emancipation from curated forms of ‘high art’. Cooperation generates a political space of dialogue and consensus. The result of such cooperation is not conceived as an average between ideas, but rather understanding how form and designs can become persuasive when engaged by an audience. The knowledge produced and designs developed in such a framework, belong to a communal effort, without any proprietary rights. In this way, the proposal contributes to a public commons, a freely accessible repository of architectural ideas, recipes for the construction of critical architecture.

Folly.age system developed with Diego Pinochet and Felipe Veliz

Folly.age system developed with Diego Pinochet and Felipe Veliz

Physical Prototype:
The Combinatorial Nest has been physically prototyped at 1:1 scale to understand the material challenges of the system, in particular, the assembly sequence. By using standardized pieces and joints, smaller samples of the project are able to identify the challenges that will be faced building the final pavilion. The project is enframed by the paradigm of Discrete Architecture, that aims to increase the affordability of complexity by the combinatorial patterning of standardized units, avoiding non-standard fabrication of the totality of the project. The serialization, in this case, affords automation without relying on a predefined outcome.