Architecture can be built with compressive elements and with tensile elements, but few materials have the ability to be stretched and also retain compressive strength. In a new project from Architectural Association DRL students Soulaf Aburas, Maria Velasquez, Giannis Nikas, and Mattia Santi, one of those materials, Polycaprolactone, a biodegradable polyester, is used to create framework from temporary pavilions and installations. Constructed using programmable robotic arms, the resulting product is a joint-less, self-supporting mono-material that shares a visual similarity to the structure of bones - giving the project its name, Osteobotics.
This latest study into the architectural potential of robotics begins with the properties of the project’s chosen material. At just 60 degrees centigrade, Polycaprolactone boasts a low melting point. At this temperature, the material’s structure breaks down into a soft, sticky, taffy-like consistency, allowing the polyester to be stretched into form and then hardened using a freezing spray. The Osteobotics method uses a robotic arm to stretch a triangular deposition of the material between tetrahedral nodes, a shape determined following multiple experiments of differing patterns, nodes and heights. As one robotic arm stretches, another operates the freezing spray.
But malleability constituted only part of the project’s material choice. Polycaprolactone is also a highly-recyclable, fully biodegradable material. According to the project team, architecture and construction account for up to “seventy percent of the overall waste production in London.” And with 1,418 pop-ups currently located in London, higher accountability must take place of architect’s material choices for temporary structures. Osteobotics solves this issues, as once a pavilion has finished its run, it can be melted down and used again to create new structures, or simply left to biodegrade.
Osteobotics’ load-bearing lattice structure requires precise calculations of pulling angles, lengths and node orientations in space to create geometric networks. As a result, and to facilitate ease and speed of construction, pavilions are constructed in prefabricated units, so that assembly on site requires just a heat gun to join meeting surfaces. Once cooled, the units work together in one structural system. Through this process and the light weight of the material, it is possible to create long spans and large spaces.
Despite initial testing done by the students, with their lightweight structure and unorthodox chemical nature, is in unclear the lifespan these pavilions would have; recyclable and biodegradable it may be, but the method’s practically would still be limited if structures can only be used for a week. Additional testing will need to be done to prove its architectural viability, but thanks to its environmental nature and malleability, it is not a stretch to argue that Osteobotics could be applied for practical purposes in the near future.
Project Name: Automated Robotic Fabrication for Temporary Architecture
Team Name: Osteobotics
Team Members: Soulaf Aburas, Maria Velasquez, Giannis Nikas, Mattia Santi
Team Tutor: Shajay Bhooshan
Institution: London, AADRL, Architectural Association School of Architecture
Credits: Vishu Bhooshan, Theodore Spyropoulos
Robots used at: Robofold.IO, London, UK2 ABB robots