Robots have become useful tools for architecture, construction and research. Thanks to digitalisation and computational logic, architecture has experienced a paradigm shift. Robots are physical, efficient and precise machines that share our spaces and produce quality products through repetitive tasks.
With these robots we can create innovative building systems and processes. By using these tools creatively, we can discover new methods of design, creation and approach to our architectural practice. What is important is how architects and designers apply these technology-based processes to the real world of architecture. There are several architectural fields where robots can be used in different ways, and here is a list of the main ones.
Building construction benefits from automation and robotics to address the lack of skilled labour, project growth and environmental impact. These applications improve productivity, reduce costs and minimise waste.
Example: Landesgartenschau Showroom
This project was the first use of industrial robotics in a large-scale permanent structure. It is an exhibition hall at the ICD of the University of Stuttgart, directed by Achim Menges. The project was a collaboration between Müllerblaustein Holzbau GmbH, the Institute for Computational Design (ICD), the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) and the Institute for Engineering Geodesy (IIGS). The showroom is based on a computational framework that treats each plate as an agent and seeks a balance between manufacturability and robotic accessibility. The project is an architectural prototype that showcases current advances in lightweight timber construction, computational design and robotic fabrication.
Example: Robot Science Museum
The Robot Science Museum is a project by Melike Altinışık Architects that will feature robots as the main characters. Robots will not only be exhibited in the museum, but will also be involved in all stages of the museum, from design to construction. The museum will be built with robots and drones performing different tasks. The metal façade of the building has a circular and curved shape that is achieved with a reusable expanded polystyrene (EPS) mould and built by robots. The robots will also be responsible for moulding, welding, assembling and polishing the elements of the structure. In addition, they will 3D print the museum’s concrete landscape and use drones to map, inspect and operate the construction equipment.
Architectural structures are one of the most promising topics for design with robotic fabrication. These structures can be linear or curved, standard or customised, regular or irregular and complex, depending on the needs of the project.
Example: Tongji University Bridge
This bridge is an example of a robust hybrid structure that is built using two robotic fabrication techniques: metal 3D printing and filament winding. It was made at the 2019 summer workshop at Tongji University. The bridge consists of thin carbon fibres that are wound onto a 3D printed metal structure. The steel base of the bridge was made with 3D printing, while the lattice-like stairs and railings were made from rolled carbon fibres and glass. These hybrid processes do not require any formwork or moulds, making them more economical, environmentally friendly and efficient than conventional construction methods such as subtractive manufacturing or pouring by casting.