New digital tools are changing the way things are made and even how buildings are built. In the emerging field of computational design, the whole process from conception to construction is accelerated, and forms are able to become ever more complex, thanks to the digitization of parameters that can then be easily manipulated en masse on the computer with the click of a button.
Of course, adding automation into the fabrication process also helps. The Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart have experimented with robot-aided construction before, and their latest project showcases a striking, cantilevered design that is inspired by the silk hammocks spun by moth larvae, and woven by industrial robots and drones. Watch how it's made:
The 12-metre (39-foot) long structure is wrapped with over 180 kilometres (111 miles) of resin-impregnated, glass-and carbon-fibre. Both institutes are researching possibilities of the lightweight and high tensile strength material over large spans, but found that using only robotic arms for fabricating for the previous research pavilion could only produce limited spans. They say:
We currently lack adequate fibre-composite fabrication processes to produce at this scale without compromising the design freedom and system adaptability required for the architecture and design industries. The aim was to develop a fibre-winding technique over a longer span, which reduces the required formwork to a minimum, while taking advantage of the structural performance of continuous filament.
To solve the problem in spinning these fibres over a greater span, the team paired a industrial robotic arm with a drone during fabrication:
In the specific experimental set-up, two stationary industrial robotic arms with the strength and precision necessary for fibre winding work are placed at the extremities of the structure, while an autonomous, long range but less precise fibre transportation system is utilised to pass the fibre from one side to the other, in this case a custom-built Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
Though it's built by robots, the structure's design is influenced by how the larvae of leaf-miner moths spin silk structures that bridge over a leaf's surface. Like these tiny but nevertheless remarkable silk architectures, the pavilion combines an active, bending substructure that is reinforced by the woven fibres.
Some might say that automation will have a negative impact on human employment, but the flip side is that you still need people in the loop at all levels, to design it, tell the robots what to do and to troubleshoot when things go awry. In any case, it's encouraging to see how biomemetic approaches to design can result in new, innovative ways to think about and make things, and how automation and computational design tools might help us achieve structures that use less materials more efficiently, without compromising on strength. More over at ICD.