Technological and conceptual advances in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and material science have enabled some of the 1960-70s visionary ideas to

Robotic(s in) Architecture

Year: 2010-14
Project leader: Henriette Bier
Project team: Henriette Bier, BK and EWI MSc students, and Bao An Nguyen (SA)
Collaborators: Delft Robotics Institute and Delft Centre for Systems and Control
Advisory board: Kas Oosterhuis (Hyperbody), Robert Babuska (Deflt Robotics Center), Tomyiama Tetsuo (Intelligent Mechanical Systems), Roland Schmehl (Sustainable Engineering), Keith Green and Marc Gross (Archibots).
Dissemination: IA#5 - Robotics in Architecture

Technological and conceptual advances in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and material science have enabled some of the 1960-70s visionary ideas to be implemented and tested in recently built robotic prototypes such as Hyperbody's Muscle Projects and dECOi's Aegis Hypo-Surface [1]. While these prototypes obviously point towards a paradigm shift from inanimate towards animate architecture, they do not operate at building but at building component scale and do not address neither socio-economical nor environmental aspects that affect the society at large. The aim of this research is, therefore, to develop reconfigurable, robotic architecture at building scale that addresses with consideration to environmental impact issues such as overpopulation (rapid urbanisation) and has, therefore, influence on society at large [2].

Reconfigurable, robotic structures, as proposed in this research, are resizable and can spatially expand or contract as well as move or be moved as needed. This implies that their ecological footprint is minimized and their economical efficiency increases significantly due to the maximized 24/7 multiple use of built space as well as sustainable operability. Robotic architecture accommodates, therefore, on the one hand human needs addressing imperative requirements for flexibility and reconfiguration; on the other hand it extends human needs by establishing interactive relations with the built environment [4].

Conceptual development of kinetic system and its CAD modelling (MuscleTower II) with Hyperbody students

Such reconfigurable architecture incorporating digital control namely sensor-actuator mechanisms that enable buildings to interact with their users and surroundings in real-time through physical or sensory change and variation [6] require multi-disciplinary research with respect to architectural design and engineering of reconfigurable, robotic systems employing horizontal and vertical spatial expansion based on additive-subtractive and folding principles, materialisation research for rapid CNC-fabrication and assembly as well as sustainable operation in-situ. While these investigation areas have been individually already looked into in the last decade, no functioning prototype has been developed yet for industrial production and general use, which is the main objective of this research proposal. Such prototype, however, is seen as technology bearer as well as test bed for distributed autonomous robotic systems of tomorrow, whereas the target parameters of these systems are maximum spatial flexibility through algorithmic optimisation [7], low moving mass and energy efficiency through collaboration between small scale distributed specialized sub-systems.

Although different in reconfiguration and material approach, this project advances knowledge in spatial reconfiguration developed in the Pop-up Apartment which aims to address societal challenges such as global urban densification and local empty office buildings. Inspired by the spatial reconfiguration tradition introduced by Rietveld, students developed a reconfigurable office/ apartment that relied on a compliant mechanism principle. Embedded sensor-actuators would allow robotic operation of the system.

[1] Examples of prototypes for reconfigurable architecture built at TUD and MIT are  InteractiveWall - TUD in collaboration with FestoMuscleTower II - TUDInteractiveSpace - TUD, and Hyposurface - MIT.
[2] Archibots workshop at UBICOMP 2009, group #4 with inter al. H. Bier, J. Walker and J. Lipton [accessed 20 April 2010]
[3] H. Bier and R. Schmehl, 'Archi- and Kite-bots' paper on integrated sustainable energy generation for reconfigurable architecture to be published in IA #5 on 'Robotics in Architecture' edited by H. Bier and K. Oosterhuis (Heijningen: JSB, 2011)
[4] H. Bier and T. Knight, 'Digitally-driven Architecture' in 6th Footprint issue edited by H. Bier and T. Knight (Delft: Stichting Footprint, 2010), pp. 1-4; alternatively see[accessed 2 December 2010]
[5] H. Bier et al., 'SC: Prototypes for Interactive Architecture', in Lecture Notes in Computer Science, (Berlin: Springer, 2006) - LNCSSC.pdf
[6] SpaceCustomizer: Interactive developed by H. Bier, K. de Bodt, and J. Galle - IS 1 HB.avi
[7] H. Bier et al., 'Prototypes for Automated Architectural 3D-Layout' in Lecture Notes in Computer Science, (Berlin: Springer, 2008) - FL3.avi and LNCSFL.pdf