Yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Toyota and BIG unveiled a new concept for a high-tech “Woven City” to be built at the car maker's 175-acre former factory site at the foothills of Mount Fuji, in Japan. “In Higashi-Fuji, Japan, we have decided to build a prototype town of the future where people live, work, play, and participate in a living laboratory,” explained Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda in a press release, going on to say that it would be a “smart city that would allow researchers, engineers, and scientists the opportunity to freely test technology such as autonomy, mobility as a service, personal mobility, robotics, smart home connected technology, AI and more, in a real-world environment.” The automotive company plans to invite private and academic researchers to collaborate on the experiment. To keep it green, the city will use solar power and geothermal energy, along with hydrogen fuel cells. BIG’s buildings—including housing, retail, and office space—will primarily be built with carbon-sequestering mass timber construction, reportedly with a method that combines handcraftsmanship (and a look inspired by the tatami flooring of traditional Japanese architecture) with robotic technology. The streets, also master-planned by BIG would be, as the name suggests, “woven” into three-by-three blocks, framing courtyards interconnected by a linear park. The grid isn’t meant to be rigid; it can flexibly evolve to contain both large parks and denser buildings. Infrastructure would be buried underground, including a “goods delivery network” Toyota and BIG have coined the “matternet.” The roads will also be organized in threes themselves: A primary thoroughfare for autonomous vehicles, as well as two other streets, one for transit options like bikes and scooters, and a plant-lined option for pedestrians. The logistical traffic would flow underground, carried by Toyota’s driverless e-Palette vehicle. Beyond moving goods and people, Toyota and BIG also imagine the vehicle could be a mobile site for healthcare, retail, and work. “A swarm of different technologies are beginning to radically change how we inhabit and navigate our cities,” said Bjarke Ingels in a press release. “Connected, autonomous, emission-free and shared mobility solutions are bound to unleash a world of opportunities for new forms of urban life.” He added that he hoped that Woven City might serve as a prototype for future infrastructure projects in other parts of the world. Construction on the project is set to begin in 2021.
Posts tagged with "Robots":
Reality capture has revolutionized construction by increasing job site efficiency and safety and allowing for quick responses to design and building challenges. However, save for the use of drones, often operated by humans, on-the-ground monitoring has required the relatively traditional (and labor-intensive) task of walking around and taking photos and collecting data to feed into software. HoloBuilder, whose software helps builders document and analyze their underway projects, has partnered with the robotics firm Boston Dynamics to create a semi-autonomous solution to document under-construction projects. Using Boston Dynamics’ Spot, a dog-like robot that regularly goes semi-viral for its aerial acrobatics (and its more sinister uses, such as being put to work by the Massachusetts State Police), contractors can capture 360-degree overviews of their work and track changes throughout the build process. Controlled by the SpotWalk app, the robot is first semi-manually trained to walk its reality capture route via a user’s phone. Then, Spot learns to repeat the route on its own, avoiding obstacles and documenting the site consistently and regularly, creating documentation of the project over time. Contractor Hensel Phelps has been testing out Spot on the $1.2 billion San Francisco International Airport Terminal 1 project. A Spot unit walks through the site capturing imagery, which is then fed into HoloBuilder’s machine learning-powered SiteAI, which provides automated construction tracking and other data. Documenting construction sites currently is a tedious task that takes away time from project staff that could otherwise focus on other aspects of construction, safety, and design. It can only be done with relatively limited regularity because of the demands. With Spot, project managers predict that they could capture updates of their sites as frequently as twice a day with all the 360 imagery being automatically organized and analyzed. Because of Spot's greater consistency against humans, the photos are also more useful as tools and the collected data is more actionable due to its regularity.
Stephen Mueller interviewed Kory Bieg, one of the conference chairs for the upcoming ACADIA conference in Austin, Texas, from October 24-26, to discuss the themes and events you can expect at this year’s gathering. SM: Why is ACADIA an important forum? KB: ACADIA is for a range of audiences. ACADIA started as a conference focused on education but has become increasingly engaged with practice. The research being carried out by both academics and practitioners has narrowed and the work from both has become entangled. You will see attendees from software, fashion, and product design companies at the workshops and the conference proper, working alongside Ph.D. students and full-time faculty. ACADIA’s mission is also to support student participation, so they have increased their effort to encourage students to submit their work and attend. Faculty who are part of large research groups—like those from Michigan, Cornell, and MIT in the U.S., or groups from abroad, like ICD in Stuttgart or ETH in Zurich—often send students to present on behalf of their team. It’s a good platform for them to find their way into a more permanent academic setting or a more specialized field in architecture. You and your co-authors mention in the introductory text for the conference proceedings that the “last decade was about unified and specialized areas of research,” and that now we are in a period defined by “ubiquity” and “autonomy.” Can you elaborate on some of the major trajectories and trends you are seeing? What’s changing? We think we are at a crossroads in computation. For the last ten years, we have seen big advancements in fabrication and the use of robotics. Recently, however, we are seeing a renewed interest in design theory, whether it be “the post-digital” or “the second digital turn.” We took a step back to think of why that might be, and what it might mean moving forward. In part, we believe the return to theory is a result of digital technologies becoming “ubiquitous.” Not only do you see fabrication technologies in big universities, but you can now find laser cutters and 3d printers in libraries, high schools, commercial box stores, and in everyday use at firms. On the other hand, you have more cutting-edge practices, like Zaha Hadid Architects or UNStudio, building in-house skunkworks innovating with and developing new technologies internally. Some employees are hired specifically for this purpose. We saw these new computation-oriented roles as becoming so specialized that they had almost become new disciplines—a kind of “autonomy” within the discipline of architecture. For this year’s theme, we see “ubiquity” and “autonomy” as two parts of a cycle, where innovation in computational design and technology begins in these autonomous groups of specialists, followed by more widespread adoption, universal access, and finally ubiquity of use. This happens at a large scale within the discipline, but also with individual researchers who silo themselves away for a while, only to emerge with some novel idea that they are ready to integrate with other people’s research. That is how the field evolves. The cycles of “ubiquity” and “autonomy” oscillate between the differentiation of individual positions and the forging of new research communities. In this framework, do you see new autonomous collectives emerging? It’s our goal to find autonomous projects and introduce them to the world. Our workshops this year are being taught by somewhat autonomous computational teams housed within successful architecture firms—groups from UNStudio, Zaha Hadid Architects, Grimshaw, HKS-Line, Morphosis, SHoP, and Autodesk. They are all interested in the overlap of technologies. UNStudio will run a workshop on the overlap of architecture and fashion. Grimshaw is working with Fologram and using the Microsoft Hololens, an AR technology, to help fabricate an installation without the use of conventional construction documents. We also have SHoP Architects using AR and robotics, and Zaha Hadid Architects using machine learning to help generate form. There is such a strange array of approaches to computational design offered in the workshops, that if their ideas start to spread, our field is in store for some interesting times ahead. Academic settings can incentivize autonomous modes of research, and in professional settings we often see niche developments serving as marketable advantages through proprietary or branded offerings. Among the diverse authors with niche approaches, is there an ethos toward the maintenance of autonomy, or do you see a proliferation of shared techniques? We are seeing an increase in the culture of sharing at ACADIA among its constituents. Morphosis, for example, is leading a workshop that is literally sharing their design method. I think most offices would consider this proprietary intellectual property, but Morphosis sees value in sharing it. Patrik Schumacher, of Zaha Hadid Architects, shares his ideas freely, and would be happy with more parametricism in the world. These offices mark a post-autonomous moment. This will also be an interesting question for the closing panel on our final conference day, where we will have a group of academics discuss the conference theme. We have invited people who represent very different approaches to architecture and design, including Ian Bogost, a game designer and author, Michelle Addington and Marcelyn Gow, who are both material experts but with different agendas, and Neil Leach, one of our discipline’s leading theorists. Kathy Velikov, the president of ACADIA, will moderate. Collaboration with machines and virtual selves promotes a certain type of autonomy while forging human/non-human partnerships. If computational collaborations are the new air that we breathe, how do you and the contributors see authorship changing?? Machine learning and AI are happening whether we like it or not. Because they operate somewhat autonomously from their creators—they are designed to run loose—there is no functional need for a sole author anymore. We are really at the beginning of AI/machine learning applications for architecture. There is a group of artists in Paris (Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel, and Gauthier Vernier) who sold a piece of AI-generated art at Christie's for $432,000, which proves there is public interest in what AI can produce, but there has also been some blowback. Critics have argued that because they are selling a piece that wasn’t generated solely by them, the value is inflated. But they were the authors of the software that created the piece, so who is right? It’s a controversial time. You’ve lined up some impressive keynote speakers—Thom Mayne, Dominique Jakob, and Harlen Miller—how would you characterize the mix? Why are these voices important now? We thought it was time, especially given the theme, to pick three practices that represent “architecture with capital A,” and to see how they have been using computational design tools, overlapping technologies, and cross-disciplinary collaborations within their office for built work. UNStudio, Morphosis, and Jakob + MacFarlane produce very unique projects and they each use technology explicitly, but also, differently. What parts of the conference are open to the public? Thom Mayne’s keynote lecture is open to the public and will be at the LBJ Auditorium on Thursday, October 24th at 6:15 pm. There will also be an exhibition of Morphosis Architects’ work opening on Friday night at 7:45 pm. This event will also include an exhibition of work produced during this year’s workshops and the peer-reviewed project posters. What else does the conference hope to change, or enable? I hope the conference encourages people to start looking at other disciplines for knowledge and expertise that we do not have within our own field and to further the progress that has already been made by overlapping ubiquitous technologies. I hope we continue to share knowledge between academia and the profession in a way that improves access to new tools, techniques, technologies, and ideas.
For the Chicago Architecture Biennial opening on September 19, SOM debuted a concrete pavilion called Stereoform Slab to showcase the latest in material and manufacturing technology. As much as 60 percent of a building’s carbon footprint can result from the creation of concrete slabs, according to SOM. By developing new fabrication methods and integrating robotic construction, the firm reported that a 20 percent reduction in material use and waste equaled an equal reduction in carbon output. The fluid form of Stereoform Slab, designed as a full-scale abstraction of the single-story concrete bays you might find in a high-rise, was built in partnership with McHugh Construction, the developer Sterling Bay, Denmark-based Odico Construction Robotics, and Autodesk. Using robots, Odico fabricated EPS foam molds which were shipped from Odense, Denmark, to the U.S. “The shape is formed of a specific, but simple class of geometry—the ruled surface,” the interdisciplinary research team behind the project at SOM said in an email. “This formal constraint is derived from the nature of the fabrication method itself, a hot-wire spanning an eight feet width at the end of a seven-axis robotic arm.” While one might have seen this "constraint" as just that, a restriction, the designers said they saw it as a way of offering “geometric freedom,” and also enjoyed the high fabrication speed. While new technology has allowed for designers to conceive of “more sustainable and expressive structures,” the resulting complexity often makes them hard to realize with conventional construction techniques. “The impetus for Stereoform Slab, however, was to prove that emerging approaches to fabrication using advanced robotics could help close this gap, and that this type of formwork could augment more conventional concrete forming systems without adding additional cost to construction,” the SOM team explained. Odico used a proprietary technology called robotic abrasive wire cutting, which allows for the rapid creation of polystyrene formworks—reportedly at up to 126 times the speed of traditional methods. “Because of this advantage, formworks can be produced at very low cost compared to conventional timber formwork molds," said Asbjørn Søndergaard, chief technology officer of Odico, "which is the critical enabler for realizing more advanced, structural designs that save material through more intelligent use of material." SOM isn’t doing away with the human hand entirely, and they said that “This type of advanced fabrication is about augmenting human labor in order to expand design freedom and the potential to actually build what we can imagine and create with more advanced digital design methodologies” Though certainly smaller than a tower, working closely with the robotic manufacturers and with a firm, McHugh Construction, that focuses on high rises means that the Stereoform Slab has more in common with a construction prototype than a pavilion. The Stereoform Slab will be up until January 5th, along with a bench produced by the same process at the Chicago Athletic Association.
As architects further blur the lines between science and design, lab and studio, and academia and practice, the experiments that arise from architect’s labs are changing the way the profession operates. With new digital fabrication and design tools and the university-fueled facilities to play with them, architects are able to reach in and engage with the physical construction process of their buildings more than ever before, altering a professional cultural divide that has been occupied by stonemasons, engineers, and contractors for millennia. “Really, this is an opportunity for architects to get back a lot of power they’ve lost over the last century,” said Fabio Gramazio, “We finally have the tools to take these risks.” Gramazio is a cofounder of Gramazio Kohler Architects, along with partner Matthias Kohler. But in 2000, the firm expanded into Gramazio Kohler Research (GKR) with the support of ETH Zurich, where the two both teach. The duo started tinkering with industrial robots, like those found in automobile factories, in the early aughts when they adapted the programmable arms for specific, repeatable building tasks like stacking bricks. However, they’ve come a long way since 2000. How to Build a House, an exhibition on the future of digital architectural fabrication, opened at the Cooper Union last Thursday and showcases a body of research at GKR and their partners from the renowned DFAB House, Benjamin Dillenburger and Mania Aghaei Meibodi. The four architects walked me through the exhibition space, where pieces of their experiments on architectural robots, large-scale 3D printers, and VR visualizations were curated by Hannes Mayer. Displaying a sensuality through its intense realism, the exhibition breaks new ground and questions the role of the architect in the profession of architecture as well as in the traditional context of a construction site. The technologies on display were adapted by these architects and tested for the first time in the real world with the construction of DFAB house, which was built on the third tier of the NEST building in Zurich. The inhabitable three-story structure is the first to be built almost exclusively with robots and digital technologies, designed from the computer screen up. “But there’s no repetitiveness anywhere—except for maybe the screws,” said Dillenburger. For the designers, the process of building the house itself was also a process of changing perspective and expectation. The new opportunities for digitizing age-old building methods like pouring concrete slabs, assembling timber structures, and shaping formwork further an already pressing question the profession is facing. As Kohler asks of his colleagues, “Is research the future of architecture, the core of the profession?” But the technologies themselves, and their presentation, reinforce their reality and existence in the "now"—this is not a futuristic exhibition. Mayer has adroitly positioned standout pieces of text, like “Architect” and “A Robot” amidst 1:1 models of digitally fabricated, full-size mullions, real-time process videos, and even a complete piece of a detailed, 3D-printed concrete slab. “It evokes an attractive industrial logic, as well as suggests a recipe,” says curator Mayer, gesturing to the thick black text that accompanies the eye as visitors travel around the non-linear exhibition floor, including the larger-than-life title type of How to Build a House. And this recipe is still being tinkered with. “Concrete, like architecture, is only limited by convention,” Dillenburger told AN as he gestured to 3D-printed concrete details. “It can be freed if we change our ideas about what it should look like.”
This summer, to celebrate the centenary of the Bauhaus, the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar in Weimar, Germany, hosted an exhibition called sumaery2019. At the exhibition, the university showcased some of the latest innovations in robotics, displaying a cable-driven robot that 3D printed cementitious material, designed by a team led by professor Jan Willmann, in cooperation with the Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and the University of Duisburg-Essen. The robot extruded and deposited layers of the "concrete" onto a platform to create a shell around a large steel structure. The robot moved over long distances across four cables, similar to how cameras work for sports broadcasts. (the Weimar robot also featured a high-resolution camera to capture what it was doing). The benefits of the robotic cable system, according to Willmann, is its ability to “to perform a variety of non-standard building processes, beyond the workspace restrictions imposed by conventional CNC-machinery.” He goes onto explain that “this means that the required components can be produced at full-scale, on-demand, on-site, and in practically unlimited forms and sizes, eliminating the need for additional formwork, transportation over long distances, and standardized parts.” The researchers hope that the robot showcased new possibilities in computational design and formwork-less additive manufacturing. “The results not only demonstrate the innovative aesthetic and functional potential of the robotic process," said Willmann, "they also provide a fascinating insight into the future of digital design and the manufacturing process in a real-world scenario.”
A joint team of researchers at the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolis Solutions (AMS) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Senseable City Lab have developed what they’re calling “the world’s first dynamic” bridge. Powered by a fleet of autonomous electric boats, roundAround will connect the Amsterdam City Center with the developing Marineterrein Amsterdam, a partly decommissioned military base that is home to the AMS Institute and a living lab for urban innovation. The project will be the first full-scale application of the Roboat project, a five-year research collaboration between the two schools. Building permanent infrastructure can be costly, complex, and a time-consuming process, particularly across the highly trafficked canals of Amsterdam. Researchers envision roundAround as a quick way to build new connections in Amsterdam and increase the use of canals to alleviate congestion as the city continues to grow and change. RoundAround employs a fleet of roboats that move in a continuous circle across the canal, like perfectly synchronized Busby Berkeley aquatic number. They move along a pre-programmed route equipped with cameras and Lidar technology that can detect obstacles or changes in the water and alter course as necessary using its four thrusters. As they approach the specialized docking platform, the roboats lock into a guide rail to provide additional stability, allowing people to board or exit without stopping. The research team estimates that the system could provide transport for hundreds of people every day, along with other benefits. “Involving citizens and visitors of the area roundAround would provide the research project with valuable continuous feedback loops,” said Stephan van Dijk, head of research & valorization at AMS. The collected data will help roboats learn and further improve their performance. But Bridges are just the beginning. The roboats were designed using a modular system that can accommodate various decks to provide different services. Researchers are hoping they will one day collect and transport garbage, provide on-demand water taxi or towing service, and securely attach to create temporary platforms for performances or “pop-up” shops. Secure connections are achieved through a novel laser-guided ball-and-socket latching mechanism. Researchers are working on improvements to the latching system, which has potential applications far beyond creating secure aquatic platforms, including cargo handling, charging stations, and even docking in space. Although autonomous cars may be getting all the headlines, Amsterdam is building its future infrastructure on the backs of autonomous boats. And what begins with one "bridge" in one city may one day connect and activate waterways worldwide.
Installed on the grounds of the 2019 Bundesgartenschau (BUGA) biennial horticulture show in Heilbronn, Germany, the BUGA Fibre Pavilion is a the product of years of research in biomimicry at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE). Biomimetic design aims to produce structures, materials, and effects after principles and processes found in nature. In other words, the BUGA Pavilion is a not-so-primitive hut inspired by fauna rather than flora. Specifically, the pavilion’s 60 woven structural components are inspired by fibrous biological composites like cellulose and chitin, which form insect wings and exoskeletons. Evolved over millions of years, these naturally occurring organic fibers are incredibly efficient and incredibly strong. Adapting this principle to architecture, the Stuttgart team created the 4,300-square-foot BUGA Fibre Pavilion using half-a-million-square-feet of a human-made synthetic equivalent—glass- and carbon-fibers weaved together by a robot working between two rotating scaffolds. The resulting hollow warped cylindrical elements, which each took four-to-six hours to produce, resemble a toy finger trap. Workers connected them together on-site to form a dome shape spanning more than 75 feet. An appropriately advanced skin, translucent ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), covers the fibrous synthetic muscle system. The design process required intense computationally-powered iteration. Although complex, the manufacturing process is wondrously efficient, producing zero waste and obviating the need for any formwork. It’s also quite strong. Five times lighter than a comparable steel structure, each component can withstand 250 kilonewtons of compression force—or, as the design team notes, “the weight of more than 15 cars.” The fabrication method recalls the futuristic 3D printer featured in the opening sequence of the HBO sci-fi series West World. The comparison is apt because the pavilion truly feels like something from the future. Indeed, as the researchers note, “Only a few years ago, this pavilion would have been impossible to design or build.” Thanks to the dramatic advancements in material science and our powers of scientific observation, the Stuttgart team was able to unite human innovation with natural principles to create something beautiful that perhaps transcends both science and art.
Sounding resonantly across the dimly lit atrium that houses the Queens Museum’s 1964 Panorama of the City of New York, the voice of Guadalupe Maravilla (born Irvin Morazán in San Salvador) shifted seamlessly between Spanish and English as he recounted a formative childhood experience: In 1984, he migrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape the violence of the Salvadorian Civil War. At ten years old, Maravilla had traveled without an adult save for the coyote who had been hired to escort them across the border. The performance was a crowning moment for an equally powerful exhibition, Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas, on view through August 18. Clad in a billowing polyester costume that cartoonishly mimicked a person being carried by a lime-green alien, Maravilla recited the monologue while accompanied by three other players, two of them dressed metallic silver bodysuits and faux taxidermied bear heads, and the third in a white balaclava and a cape adorned with sculpted rabbit heads. Such regalia is typical of Maravilla’s performances, which combine Mayan cosmologies with the artist’s personal history. For this performance—intended to “cleanse political phobias and blockages of New Yorkers”—the actors alternately sat, moved about, and chanted among the panorama’s rivers and bay, thereby enacting the title of the piece, Walk on Water. Bringing together over thirty Latin American and Latinx artists, Mundos Alternos focuses on works that engage the many allegorical lenses afforded by science fiction to examine the multitude of possibilities for the ongoing struggle of Latinx immigrant populations. The works on view encompass a sprawling array of mediums—from video, to sculpture, to installation—and take on an equally wide range of approaches to addressing the shared, thematic subjects of colonization, alienation, and diaspora. Curators Robb Hernández, Joanna Szupinska-Myers, and Tyler Stallings originally organized the exhibition for UCR ARTS at the University of California, Riverside, as part of the larger Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA presentation that opened in September 2017 and ran through January 2018. According to the Queens Museum’s website, they hope to extend the run of Mundos Alternos either within or outside of the U.S. in order to continue a “conversation about speculative aesthetics at a time when immigrant futures are facing a crossroads.” Among the many highlights of the presentation are a reading room where visitors can peruse classic and contemporary works of science fiction published in English and Spanish. Inside a small theater, Alex Rivera’s film Sleep Dealer (2008) is screened on a loop, which astutely revises the heroic protagonist tropes of Blade Runner and The Matrix to apply to the plight of migrant workers. Indeed, the exhibition is aptly divided into an array of physically and conceptually linked realms—or “constellations,” as the curators refer to them—where viewers are free to enter, peer into, or ignore a diverse array of interior spaces. The museum’s central, sky-lit foyer is dedicated to a kinetic sculpture by Chico MacMurtrie and Amorphic Robot Works (ARW) titled Organic Arches (Time Traveler) (2014/2017). Here, sixteen tendrils constructed from electric valves sheathed in diaphanous white fabric hang just above the floor. When “closed,” each cylinder is coiled into loops and the structure constitutes a static, impenetrable scaffold until it is activated at predetermined times, when a computer system slowly expands the contracted limbs of each tube. Extending into the archway of its title, the “opened” sculpture briefly allows visitors to pass through its ribcage-like tunnel before curling back into stasis. By far the most immersive work in the exhibition is Rigo 23’s multi-room installation, where manifestos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation are scrawled among emblems of the movement, which take the form of snails, butterflies, balaclava-clad activists, and ears of corn. Queremos un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos, states one of the paintings hung in the final vitrine of the installation: “We want a world in which many worlds fit.” Maravilla’s July 21st Walk on Water performance came at an especially pertinent moment in the realm of New York cultural institutions; four days earlier, an Artforum Slant garnered widespread attention for calling on artists participating in the 2019 Whitney Biennial to withdraw their contributions to the exhibition as a form of protest against the museum’s refusal to remove billionaire Warren B. Kanders from their board of trustees. Kanders is the owner of Safariland Group, a distributor of law enforcement equipment including the brand of tear gas that has been used on Central American refugees attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border. By the time Maravilla entered the panorama in his human-alien costume, eight artists had demanded the removal of their work from the biennial, and tens of others had publicly advocated for Mr. Kanders’s resignation. While Kanders eventually resigned from his position and the eight protesting artists will remain in the biennial, the renewed discussion regarding the stewardship of public art collections by progenitors of state violence has galvanized many facets of an art world known for its implicit insularity. With its terminus yet to be determined, Mundos Alternos thus constitutes a prescient landscape of possible dystopias that remain unrealized yet highly possible, should the populations in positions of power succumb to the forces of greed or inertia. The spectators lining the panorama for Maravilla’s soliloquy were faced with the traumas inflicted by such dystopic scenarios. Maravilla’s performance, the calm narration of his own transience and pain, reminds us that the retention of our humanity is a choice we must actively pursue, and that the struggle for survival increasingly required of globally marginalized demographics will be fought not only at far off borders but within the private and public spaces of our own cities.
Most 3D printers, no matter their size, operate in a pretty similar way: they move along a grid to deposit material, sliding on axes in a fixed manner within a frame. Even those with more flexible arms remain fixed at a point. GXN, the research-focused spinoff of the Danish architecture firm 3XN, is looking to change that, using high-tech robotics to “break the grid” and offer new possibilities in additive manufacturing. Along with the Dansk AM Hub, a foundation that supports experimentation in additive manufacturing, and MAP architects, GXN has been hacking printers—both mechanically and virtually—to create prototypes that can move through space on land, in the air, and underwater. Their speculative Break the Grid proposal imagines a near future where our buildings and infrastructure can be created and maintained with the help of autonomous, robotic 3D printers that move beyond the normal confines of additive manufacturing devices. The team started by asking themselves, “Where could we take this if we let our imagination run a little bit free, and what sort of impact would we imagine additive manufacturing having in a positive way in the built environment?” said Kåre Stokholm Poulsgaard, Head of Innovation at GXN. “The goal was to learn something about this," said Stokholm Poulsgaard, “so we had this idea that we wanted to be able to set the printers free, so we needed to understand robotics and mobility, and what this means." GXN took a hacker’s approach to the project. They used existing products, like simple stepper motors and 3D printers already available on the market, to create both mechanical and virtual prototypes. “We wanted to create something new, something that we haven't seen before, but we also wanted to make sure that whatever we created was tied into existing technologies and capabilities,” explained Stokholm Poulsgaard. Along with roboticist Teodor Petrov, the GXN team began creating a series of robots, using both cheaply available parts and bespoke components. They also created a variety of digital models and plans, virtual hacks, that in their final form look like something out of a sci-fi video game. The team behind Break the Grid has selected three main areas where they see autonomous 3D printers as prime opportunities. The first of these is in addressing global problems in maintaining infrastructure across the globe. It’s estimated that in the U.S. alone, unaddressed issues with highways, bridges, and the like could result in $4 trillion in losses to the economy by 2025. GXN imagines walking robots that could repair microcracks in concrete infrastructure before they eventually become far larger by allowing in water and oxygen, causing corrosion. Inspired by studies done at Rutgers and Bingham Universities, the team imagined a 3D printing robot that deposits the fungus Trichoderma reesei, which encourages calcium carbonate to form, filling in this microcracks and staving off further damage, especially in smaller and more isolated parts of the road. GXN also proposes using 3D printing robots on the seafloor to help minimize the damage from coastal storms by 3D printing artificial reefs made from a bio-based cement derived from oysters as a binder. For addressing climate issues on land—or above it, as it were—they imagined drone-printers that can help repair, enhance, and build sections of high-rise facades in order to support their thermal bridges, which are, the team claims, responsible for as much as 30 percent of a building’s heat loss. GXN hopes that robotic additive manufacturing devices like these could someday work alongside humans to change how construction happens. “Construction is a very large sector in society,” said Stokholm Poulsgaard, “and it's one of the last large sectors to see comprehensive automation. While all these other sectors are seeing very large productivity growth, the built environment is absolutely flat-lining.” Still, it’s important not to forget that there are many workers in construction. Stokholm Poulsgaard says it’s not about replacing human workers, but about understanding how technology can work alongside people. “Let's say we have these robots on a building site,” he said, “how do they interface with traditional construction techniques and the people working there in ways that add value and are meaningful? Because robots can do some things better than humans, that goes for artificial intelligence as well, but there's a lot of stuff it cannot do. How do we let the robots do what they do best to free up people to do what they do best?” The other hope, besides increases in productivity, safety, and efficiency is added design freedom for architects. “Additive manufacturing promises variation at less or no extra cost,” said Stokholm Poulsgaard, “because they allow you to link up with parametric programs and then mass produce variations of the same components, for example, at a very low cost compared to if you had to do them by hand or traditional means.” At the moment mobile 3D printing remains purely speculative, but GXN hopes that drones and ROVs will become normal occurrences on construction sites in the near future.
Since Dutch designer Iris van Herpen opened her eponymous atelier in 2007, the brand has become the face of high-tech fashion. Often the first to embrace new technologies like laser cutting and 3D printing in her fluid and futuristic forms, van Herpen has designed pieces worn by the likes of Solange and Rihanna, and, on the streets of Paris this past July 1st, Céline Dion. During the presentation of van Herpen’s latest collection during Paris’s Haute Couture week, titled Hypnosis, her already alien and energetic forms came alive. The clothing literally moved on the models as they passed through a large, also motorized, ring hung in the Élysée Montmartre. Inspired by the fluidity and complexity of natural forms, van Herpen designed 19 different looks made from traditional materials like silk and satin, as well as aluminum and stainless steel. The fabric itself was guided by engineering, with plotter machines and laser cutters working alongside hand stitching. What really stood out, though, were the actual moving parts. Dresses were mounted with metal pieces and fabric flanges that rotated around, and in the center of the runway was a large moving circle, a motorized ring called Omniverse by kinetic sculptor Anthony Howe, a "portal" designed to evoke the “universal life cycle,” according to the artist. The dresses’ moving components were devised by experimental sculptor Philip Beesley (PB), along with architect Rolf Seifert. The duo behind PB, who also led the design of the moving metal augmentations that sprout off the garments, generally works on public buildings and art, along with experimental installations—including immersive textile environments. The pair also have architectural relationships with the Living Architecture Systems Group, the School of Architecture and Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo, the architectural practice of Rolf Seifert, and Riverside Architectural Press. It's hard to think of a technological setting so radical since Alexander McQueen's industrial robots to spray paint and dance along with the model in the Spring-Summer 1999 show. The results of these collaborations shook up viewers along the stage and on Instagram alike, as they pushed the bar even higher for integrating fabrication and robotics technology in haute couture, both on the garments and off. Hopefully, with Liz Diller, Kazuyo Sejima, and Cini Bouery designing for Prada and a trained-architect behind Louis Vuitton, we'll be seeing architectural thinking entering the fashion world both high and low more in the future.
Exhibit Columbus, the annual celebration of mid-century and contemporary design in Columbus, Indiana, will be showing off new possibilities of materials that unify support and envelope. This August, two of the festival's six University Design Research Fellows will present this work as part of a brand new fellowship program. Marshall Prado, a professor at the University of Tennessee, is creating a 30-foot-tall tower out of a carbon-and-glass fiber spun by robots. To manufacture Filament Tower, strands of the material were rotated on a steel frame and injected with resin, which is cured and then baked to increase its tensile and compressive strength. After cooling, the 27 computationally-designed components were removed from the steel frame and made to support themselves. The design was inspired both by historic architecture—akin to the churches of Eero Saarinen—and by biology. Filament Tower mimics the integrated, fibrous matrices of protein structures native to the connective tissues found in plants and animals, all while maintaining transparency. Christopher Battaglia, a research fellow at Ball State University, turned his skills to a different material for Exhibit Columbus: concrete. In DE|stress, a 35-foot-long, 9.5-foot-tall, pavilion, Battaglia critiques the common approach to prefab concrete construction, which often sacrifices either strength and control over form. DE|Stress is made from 110 curved panels created in a green-sand casting method, where the concrete, made of silica sand and bentonite clay, is worked while still wet. The same CNC robot that produced the mold, which is easily recyclable, later prints the material, giving the process a high degree of efficiency. “There’s no material waste in the form-making at all,” Battaglia claimed in a report from Autodesk. He also said that 3D printing gives a far greater control over shaping the vault-like structure, which is designed to encourage communal occupation and encounters.