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Jim Miller’s recap of a collaborative retractable classroom

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Designing systems that retract requires a certain amount of trial and error—a part of the design process Miller finds exhilarating. In 2008 Clive Wilkinson Architects approached Miller with an unlikely concept, one he couldn’t refuse. The idea was to design, manufacture and install a retractable classroom at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. The project required an extensive series of cables, blocks, motors and microswitches to deploy the room. “We built mock-ups here in the shop,” says Miller. “Some didn’t work with the first few tries because the shape of the room required the motors to turn on at different times. It was pretty tricky, but we figured it out.” The classroom collapses inward on itself as it deploys up into the ceiling, looking somewhat like a thick-legged spider folding itself up. “Each of the motors had to take turns engaging or the ‘legs’ of the classroom would crash into each other because of the shape of the building,” Miller says. “As one section of the room rises up, the power is killed to other sections of the room.”

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