CCA robotics session shines a light on 3D architectural fabrication

Robots in construction have traditionally been seen as suited to menial tasks – “boring, dirty and dangerous” – but nowadays architects are using robotics and increasingly sophisticated software to push the boundaries of customization every day. design.

University of Toronto associate professor Brady Peters was invited to discuss new horizons in robotics in architecture on July 14, as the Canadian Construction Association hosted a virtual R&D showcase. Peters is a designer and researcher with particular expertise in the development of design technologies for integrative construction and digital manufacturing.

Under the guidelines of the architects, said Peters, robotics is not about substituting manpower, but rather researching new processes and creating new products.

“This mass architectural customization allows the architecture to be personalized for customers in different situations,” he said. “The key is this link between digital information and physical manufacturing. “

A few years ago, a Peters project illustrated how designers could develop new models of acoustics using advanced computer simulation, geometric generation, and robotic manufacturing. It was called Sustainable Sonic Environments: The Robotic Fabrication of Mass Timber Acoustic Surfaces.

“We were looking at the acoustics of the meeting rooms and this particular phenomenon of floating echoes,” he said, noting that a more diffuse sound field would produce fewer distinct floating echoes.

“We therefore proposed this concept of a wall which would have this continuous surface which would then become a little more modulating in the middle.

“The algorithm was essentially this focal point, this focal point for ideas about geometry, simulation, and fabrication together.”

BRADY PETERS – Pictured is a meeting room with an acoustic diffusion wall, Toronto, 2019,

Peters guided his audience through a history of architectural representations, from the hand-drawn 2D images that enabled the creation of the profession to the first Sketchpad system introduced by Ivan Sutherland in 1963 and the debut of AutoCAD in 1981.

In 2001, Peters was working in London, England, and was influenced by the parametric design applications developed by Hugh Whitehead. Parametric design applies math and geometry to the constructed shape. Peters went to work with Whitehead at Foster + Partners and got involved in the early days of the Smartgeometry movement, an international organization that explores creative computational methods for building design.

“The problem was that the parametric system was not to scale,” said Peters. “We had to invent new tools.

“And that’s where I found the computer programming, that is, scripting, that allowed me to create the huge amounts of material that are needed for that.

“So it was part of this stage of architectural research that we were developing computer design software for architecture. And a big part of that was the Smartgeometry community.

In this next phase, Peters and his colleagues continued to add more data representations.

“We could include elements on structural performance or we could include elements on environmental performance. We were able to connect different disciplines thanks to this data that we were developing. “

Digital manufacturing has brought these specialists into the current era. Architects could start directly from the computer to develop digital instructions which then created the constructed shape. It was especially welcome for designers like Peters who were immersed in digital technology. His office had the first 3D printer in the UK in 2005.

“As Whitehead said, the use of rapid prototyping closes the loop in a digital design process,” said Peters.

Why has 3D printing been so successful in architecture? Peters said the architects were already working in 3D; it was faster than building by hand; it was a relatively low cost; and the limitations of construction have disappeared.

Peters credits the work of Swiss professors Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler of Gramazio Kohler Research for showing how the future will play out, with several types of robots programmed to produce custom designs and materials – even custom bricks of any kind. shape – to enable architects to offer homeowners unlimited design options for their projects.

And progress continues, especially with innovation in design software.

“What’s happening is we’re getting this whole ecosystem of new design tools that can connect to Grasshopper, which connects to Rhino, which is CAD software. We get all this new software that can simulate performance in different ways, energy performance, lighting performance, acoustic performance.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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