A group of Swiss researchers have set out to find an answer to the problem of CO2 in the building and construction industry. After all, putting up new buildings ranks as one of the most polluting activities that humans partake in, according to Quartz.
The researchers believe that robots could very well be the answer that the industry needs. And now, they have their proof of concept in the DFAB House, described as "the first habitable building designed and planned using a choreography of digital fabrication methods."
The DFAB House is 3 levels and features 3D printed ceilings, energy efficient walls, timber beams assembled by robots and an intelligent home system. The house is near Zurich and was developed by a team of experts at ETH Zurich University with help from thirty industry partners. It took four years to develop and build the house, which measures 2,370 square feet and required 60% less cement than a traditional building. The DFAB House also passed stringent Swiss building codes.
Matthias Kohler, a member of DFAB’s research team said: “This is a new way of seeing architecture. Suddenly how we use resources to build our habitats is at the center of architecture. How you build matters.”
Kohler continued: “Of course we’re interested in gaining breakthroughs in speed and economy, but we tried to hold to the idea of quality first. You can do things very, very fast but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually sustainable.”
He believes that embracing technology could augment human creativity and foster a revival of craftsmanship, as opposed to costing humans construction jobs. “Like a craftsman may have an iPhone in his pocket, I think that future machines will be less separated from human,” he says.
This isn't the first digital fabrication project to come about, either. Chinese company WinSun demonstrated 3D printing for architectural purposes in 2014 by manufacturing 10 single story houses in one day. The next year, it printed an entire apartment building and a neoclassical mansion. The projects remain in development stages.
Kohler says that partnering with robots just means allowing machine processes to inform the design. He believes there are whole new aesthetics that will come from digital fabrication. For example, he cites the DFAB House's ornamental ceiling, which was created with a large scale 3D sand printer:
Benjamin Dillenburger, the 3D printing specialist on DFAB’s team, said: “One should not romanticize the jobs on the construction sites. [It] really makes sense to have this kind of collaborative setups where robots and human work together.”
Kohler and Dillenburger have said they are interested in fostering a dialogue with global architecture and construction sectors. They even have a traveling exhibition titled “How to Build a House: Architectural Research in the Digital Age,” that will open in New York this week.
The Cooper Union Dean of Architecture, Nader Tehrani, hopes the exhibition will attract a large audience. He said: “We had imagined that it would be of interest not only to architects, but also to engineers, artists, and builders. At once sober, rational, and thoughtful, the research in this project is also projective, unprecedented, and speculative.”
Dillenburger concluded: “Architecture is always a public project. It’s for anyone curious about how we’re building for the future.”