Connecting Intelligence

Development of elastically bent plate morphologies based on robotically fabricated finger joints in architecture

The presented research project aims to investigate both the possibilities and the impact of integrating material behaviour and robotic fabrication in architectural design, using the example of lightweight plywood timber construction. In this process the possibilities of computational and biomimetic design methods for integrated and context oriented design strategies is incorporated in self organising material effects of form finding and the production logic of robotic fabrication.

New developments in computational design as well as in digital fabrication are currently leading to a rethinking of architectural design, material science, engineering and fabrication. While these processes were separated and detached during the industrialisation (Kieran & Timberlake 2004), the present development shows that there is yet again the possibility of interweaving them in a particularly performative way through computational design methods. The project aims at showing that novel possibilities of integrating material behaviour and biomimetic design can lead to truly performative architecture when the design process is clearly separated from classical well established form oriented design methods and is instead an open, undetermined and explorative process (Menges 2012).

In its first part, the current situation in timber construction and architectural design is analysed in order to gain an overview of their past development and possible research fields. The second part focuses on the use of an industrial robot and its design space for developing geometrically differentiated, curved finger joint connections for planar sheets of plywood, which induce elastic bending through their inherent assembly logic. Subsequently, on the basis of material behaviour and fabrication requirements, a bending active, multi layered material system is being developed, incorporating fabrication and material constraints, as well as structural and architectural demands. Finally, this leads to the development of a computational design tool showing the performative capacity of the developed material system in an architectural context, as well as of computational design processes in general. The project concludes with a discussion about the potentials of integrated computational design as well as the role of the designer throughout such processes.

Current research in the field of digital fabrication in architecture is characterized by a shift from CNC machinery designed for a specific task towards more generic fabrication equipment such as industrial robots (Menges & Schwinn 2012). Leading to an increasingly open design space robotic fabrication offers the opportunity for computational design to explore the design space for particularly promising areas. In evolutionary biology, the term morphospace is being used for describing the morphological characteristics of individuals compared to the theoretically possible outcome and thus offers the concept of seeing the morphological features of a specimen as actuations within a solution space. While this systematic can be transferred in order to conceptualize the space of robotic fabrication possibilities (Menges & Schwinn 2012), the performance of possible designs populating the machinic morphospace also depends on its material behaviour integrated in both the fabrication process and the subsequent assembly intelligence. The project therefore aims at proving that through computational design methods it is not only possible to determine areas of the robotic design space with the most promising performance, but also that in this context only the integration of material behaviour in the fabrication intelligence will lead to truly performative and ecological architecture.

It is the project’s goal to show that through the research in robotic fabrication and material behaviour it is possible to efficiently and thoroughly expand the use and performance of computational design, especially when integrated in an architectural context. This also includes the ability to prefabricate and transport parts of the structure as well as an easy assembly on site. It will therefore be necessary to develop a modular material system that includes not only fabrication constraints and material behaviour, but also structural and architectural demands, and finally to develop a design tool integrating those parameters in a form finding process through the adaption of natural behaviour and biomimetic principles in the context of an architectural and urban surrounding. While such principles in general are amongst others heterogeneity, anisotropy, hierarchy, multifunctionality, redundancy and adaptability (Knippers & Speck 2012), a biomimetic top down research process for specific principles will also be necessary. Ultimately, it will be shown that through this integrative computational design process the fields of design, material science, engineering and fabrication are again inseparably interwoven as only their intense and direct information exchange enables performative architectural design.

Kieran, S. & Timberlake J. (2004). Refabricating Architecture. How Manufacturing Methodologies Are Poised to Transform Building Construction, McGraw–Hill, New York.

Knippers, J., & Speck, T. (2012). Design and construction principles in nature and architecture. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 7(1).

Menges, A. (2012). Biomimetic design processes in architecture: morphogenetic and evolutionary computational design. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 7(1).

Menges, A., & Schwinn, T. (2012). Manufacturing Reciprocities. Architectural Design, 82(2), 118–125.