“Architecture does not change anything. It’s always on the side of the wealthy.” With these words, Oscar Niemeyer referred to architecture as being a privilege mostly destined to the upper class – a statement that has historically proven to be true, even as some would like to deny it. Today, only 2% of all houses around the world are designed by architects. This is largely due to the fact that, to the average consumer, architect-designed homes continue to be perceived as expensive and esoteric products available only to this select few; a luxury that many cannot fathom to afford, especially as housing prices rise. Ultimately, this makes good design inaccessible for certain segments, forcing them to settle for precarious living conditions in standardized spaces that fail to take their needs into account (that is, if they even have access to housing).
Digital Fabrication: The Latest Architecture and News
Dübendorf, Switzerland is something of hallowed ground for architectural technologists. There, on the shared academic campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, public university ETH Zurich has conducted nearly a decade of engineering and construction experimentation at the ever-evolving NEST research building. In August, ETH Zürich unveiled its latest extension of the building, HiLo (short for high performance-low emissions)—a two-story modular addition to the chameleon structure that harnesses medieval building principles and contemporary digital methods to raise the bar for more sustainable applications of concrete.
In Mendoza, Argentina, the digital fabrication research lab Node 39 FabLab created a frame loom structure made of digitally cut wood to help indigenous people in the central region of the country weave and create their traditional patterns. In the state of Ceará, northeast Brazil, a study entitled "Artífices Digitais" (Digital Artisans) by the Federal University of the State of Ceará used digital fabrication tools, namely 3D printing, to produce digital models, like digital prosthetics, to restore the damaged parts of an altarpiece of the high altar of the Mother Church in the city of Russas.
The automation of architectural design and rendering has been further accelerated by digital production tools. Tools such as 3D printers, assembly robots, and laser cutters, have all but perfected the design and construction process and have proven essential in optimizing resources, improving precision, and increasing control of the process.
In woodworking, the most frequently used digital production tools are milling machines or CNC (computer numerical control) routers. These tools facilitate the rendering of 2D vectoral drawings and 3D models, codifying them into instructions for the machine to follow and execute. Through this process, which starts with digital archives (typically created using design software widely known as AutoCad), milling machines and CNC routers can rapidly and precisely cut wood, producing ready to assemble pieces.
3D printing (as known as three-dimensional printing) is a type of rapid prototyping technology. It is a technology that uses powdered metal or plastic and other bondable materials to construct objects by printing layer by layer based on digital model files.
For several years, the construction sector has been facing a labour shortage, generating a growing interest in automation. The health crisis has only exacerbated the trend, prompting automation companies to turn their focus from car manufacturing to the construction industry, for which automation is expected to grow up to 30% within the next few years. The following explores present capabilities and future possibilities of automation within the construction process, its integration within the mainstream practice and the impact on design.
A recent collaboration between the team of Mario Cucinella Architects (MC A) and WASP, specialists in 3D Printing in Italy, has resulted in the first 3D-printed construction of a fully natural, recyclable, and carbon-neutral material: raw earth. The circular housing prototype is called TECLA and it was built in Massa Lombarda (Ravenna, Italy) using multiple 3D printers synchronized to work at the same time.
Like most functions in recent months, this year’s Digital FUTURES, which is held annually since 2011 at Tongji University in Shanghai, had to move online due to the pandemic. The organizers took this as an opportunity to give the event a global dimension, turning the festival into what they rightfully call the most significant worldwide event for architectural education ever staged, with a 24/7 display of workshops, lectures and panel discussions involving some of the most prominent architects and educators. Here is an overview of the festival, together with a selection of lectures from Digital FUTURES World.
Digital Fabrication in Architecture & Design Webinar with Fabio Gramazio, Jorge Lopes, and Barbara Iseli
Digital fabrication is a manufacturing process that uses a machine controlled by computers. This method has sparked the interest of architects and product designers, as it opens the door to new possibilities in terms of solving complex processes and new approaches for mass construction.
New technology in digital building, particularly Computer Numerical Control (CNC) systems, are changing the way that we design and build wooden structures. Their high level of precision allows us to design perfect assembles--without screws or visible metalwork--resulting in structures that are durable, easy-to-build, and extremely well-organized. We spoke with the experts at Timber to better understand the process of building a wooden structure and to compile a list of key tips in designing one.
How do designers think? How do they visually communicate complex ideas? What strategies do they employ to make a positive impact on the built environment? How does design change the way people see and experience the world?
In 2016, Ecole des Ponts ParisTech has established an advanced masters program with a focus on digital fabrication and robotics. Currently recruiting for its fourth installment, the Design by Data Advanced Masters Program appeals to architects, engineers, and tech-oriented designers. Since its launch in 2016, the program’s director Francesco Cingolani has sought to shape the relationship between architecture and technology by creating a cross-disciplinary culture between the two.
As previously mentioned on Archdaily, students study the main components of the program - computational design, digital culture and design, and additive manufacturing and robotic fabrication - throughout the 12-month program to fulfill Design by Data’s main objectives while working with peers in a dynamic learning environment. While providing each participant with both technical skills and an aesthetic eye, the program ensures students will also gain critical knowledge of current innovative trends and ongoing research. By exposing them to technology through hands-on use of tools of digital fabrication, the program will teach students to approach design through a process-oriented lens.
This article was originally published by Autodesk's Redshift publication as "SHoP's Chris Sharples on Urban Architecture, Digital Fabrication, and the Public Realm."
Twin brothers Chris and Bill Sharples are two of the founding partners of SHoP Architects, a New York-based firm established 20 years ago to bring together diverse expertise in designing buildings and environments that improve the quality of public life.
The firm’s style is difficult to define, but a connective thread throughout SHoP’s portfolio is a design philosophy rooted in constraints. From digital models to next-generation fabrication and delivery techniques, technology is at the center of the firm’s movement toward an iterative approach that, as Chris Sharples says, “is beginning to blur the line between architecture and manufacturing.”