week 10_robotics for building
For the last 5 years, a growing core of professionals and students are pushing
boundaries of what is possible with available 6-axis industrial robotics hardware,
while re-inventing a new paradigm of design and control software as they see
fit. The current manifestations are a result of an open discourse surrounding
two converging technologies; CNC fabrication equipment and CAD software.
CNC hardware is a familiar technology.
3D printing technology and CNC cutting technologies are linked directly to
CAD data – they are commonly referred to as ‘digital fabrication technologies’.
Most architectural and design practices and institutions will own a CNC router
or other milling machine, a low power laser cutter, and various 3D printers
– making these technologies a given for most in these industries. With the
maturing of 3D printing technology, the expectation is that these prototyping
technologies are ready for ‘real’ manufacture. The trend we see is the leading
practitioners and researchers cannot wait for mainstream technology to meat
their needs at a larger architectural scale, so build their own – such as Enrico
Dini’s D-Shape deposition machine, left – which has 3D printed the worlds first
The design possibilities in architecture and design have seen a step change
thanks to generative design software plugins: These are additions to existing
CAD software that allow for further graduated control of multiple self similar
elements. This trend took hold when Robert Aish, then R+D director at Bentley
Systems, developed the Generative Components plugin for MicroStation. This
first came the fore in 2004 with a strong community of beta testers driving the
direction and using it for buildings which would simply have been impossible
to conceptualise or build with previous software. The newest addition to this
type of modelling is Grasshopper, a plugin developed by David Rutten for
Rhino (used by Konrad Hoffman to create the image on the lef). This software
allows parametric control over multiple geometric constraints and has a clean
user interface that allows for visual programming of geometry. It is an extensible
environment, so plugins for the plugin are being written.
A powerful emerging trend we can observe is in this community is the link
between the geometric of the architect and data of the fabricator. The architect is
typically not the engineer or maker – but they are beginning to develop software
tools that augment the formal design language with imposed parameters of
production constraints – slowly educating practitioners in the idea that the
limitations of a fabrication process must considered from the outset.