Author : Giulio Brugnaro

University : University of Stuttgart

Status : Master of Science, 2015

Advisors :  Prof. Achim Menges, Ehsan Baharlou, Lauren Vasey

Title : Robotic Softness: Behavioural Fabrication Process of a Woven Space

Robotic Softness: Behavioural Fabrication Process of a Woven Space explores the potential of behavioural fabrication systems in comparison with construction processes based on pure notation, where only what can be drawn and measured, can be built (Carpo, 2014).  Behavioural fabrication strategies are not based on the “materialisation” of detailed blueprint drawings or digital models, but rather on the execution of specific tasks that unfold out of the interaction between the machine and the environment through a sensor-actuator feedback strategy.

In order to challenge the conceptual framework posed by notational systems, the research focused on the design and production of three-dimensional robotically woven structures inspired by the behavioural construction logic used by a large family of birds called “weaverbirds” during the construction of their nest. These structures are not successful for specific properties of the material they are made of but rather for the behavioural logic that the bird follows to put them together, therefore the biomimetic research focused on the analysis of these set of procedures and construction strategies to subsequently transfer them within the robotic fabrication system.

At the foundation of the research lies the idea of robotic fabrication processes not as linear procedures of materialisation but rather as “soft system”, according to the definition given by Sanford Kwinter, systems that are flexible, adaptable and evolving and rely on a dense network of active information and feedback loops (Kwinter, 1993) . In this new paradigm, condensed in the idea of “Robotic Softness”, the design moment blurs with the fabrication one, while the “soft system” unfolds simultaneously on the physical and digital level relying completely on a real-time stream of sensor data.

The research development led to the design of an integrative computational tool, composed by different parts such as an online agent-based control system, a custom weaving end-effector and integrated sensing strategy (based on 3d scanning procedures). The behavioural fabrication process is composed by two coordinated fabrication loops, one acting on a local level while the other on a global one, which unfold together in real-time and rely on the already mentioned dense network of sensor data. The woven structure that comes out of this process is not described in a model subsequently “materialised” in the fabrication stage but rather it emerges from a constant negotiation among different fabrication parameters, material properties, site conditions and design intentions expressed through specific performance criteria.

The research evolved through a series of experiments that tested each time a different aspect of the system (for instance the local and the global sensing, the adaptive reorientation or the performance-driven responsiveness) and culminated in a final prototype representing a moment of synthesis where the whole system has been tested to produce a relatively complex woven structure. In parallel with the physical prototyping, a digital exploration with the same integrative tool was undertaken in order to create a collection of possible spatial morphologies that demonstrated how much the interplay of different parameters could influence the final result and open the design process toward new possibilities.

 

References:

  • Carpo, Mario. The Alphabet and the Algorithm. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014.
  • Kwinter, Sanford. Soft Systems. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1993.

Interview

S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Giulio Brugnaro_ The aim of the project was to challenge the current design paradigm based on geometric notation and propose an alternative design and fabrication method to move beyond the abstraction of representation and allow the designer to engage with the materiality of the physical world. The result of the process is not described in a blueprint drawing but it rather emerges out of the constant negotiation among different fabrication parameters, material properties, site conditions and design intentions expressed through specific performance criteria.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
GB_ In general, I’m fascinated with the relation between technology and its alternative use in “creative” practices. Moreover, the study of biological systems represents a great source of inspiration for my work.

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
GB_ Problem-solving attitude together with the ability to work within different disciplinary fields and merge them together to reach innovative results.

S//A : Describe your dream project
GB_ My dream project is the one that would allow me to use innovative technologies in collaboration with human skills to develop processes and products that would have not been possible to achieve before.