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By Harry Ibbs, Europe Design Technology Director, Gensler

AEC Design to Fabrication Revolution Activated Harry Ibbs, Europe Design Technology Director, Gensler

Research and Development

In recent months, the Architecture Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry has been inundated with new technologies that are empowering designers, architects, engineers and contractors to rethink project delivery.

Decades of research and development in CAD, CAM, CAE software as well as, robotic, machinery, and universities are also now flooding the market with options.

The Block Research Group (BRG) at the Institute of Technology in Architecture at ETH Zurich is one of the driving forces behind this revolution, helping to design a better future for the construction industry.

As a result of intense R&D, the BRG have successfully created around thirteen 1:1 projects in the past decade, including KnitCandela, a flexibly formed thin concrete shell that was developed for the Museo Universtiario de Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City in 2018.

KnitCandela pays homage to Spanish-Mexican shell builder Félix Candela by reimagining his spectacular concrete shells through the introduction of novel computational design methods and the KnitCrete formwork technology.

KnitCrete uses material-saving, labour-reducing and cost-effective formwork system for the casting of doubly curved geometries in concrete.


One could even argue that the industry is transitioning towards a design to fabrication revolution

The KnitCrete technology is currently being developed at ETH Zurich by the BRG— in collaboration with the Chair for Physical Chemistry of Building Materials— as part of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Digital Fabrication.

The research at the BRG has been focused on several core areas: analysis of masonry structures, graphical analysis and design methods, computational form finding and structural design, discrete element assemblies, fabrication and construction technologies.

As a result, what was once considered to be theoretical research that had no place within the AEC industry for commercial scale application no longer is the case.

One could even argue that the industry is transitioning towards a design to fabrication revolution.

The Master builders of the Pantheon in Rome were amongst the Greats at the forefront of discovering expressive forms through the constraints of economy, efficiency and elegance.

Today’s AEC has much to learn from their architectural and structural principles, their design and analysis methods, and their construction logics.

The world’s population has exponentially grown and our needs have changed tremendously too. Yet, our fabrication and construction methods still lag behind.

Pushing the Boundaries

Governments across Europe are now heavily investing in start-ups focusing on innovations for the construction industry. As a result, we’re seeing more and more start-ups pushing the boundaries of design to fabrication methods.

One of these is Ai Build, a London based company that’s developing artificial intelligence and robotic technologies for large scale additive manufacturing.

And that’s just one example. From scalable concrete formwork to mega construction sites across the globe, we’re seeing a lot of development in 3D printing custom moulds.

This alternative construction method can help reduce labour intensive work to address and radically reduce waste whilst providing flexibility to design and construction solutions— both of which are key priorities for the AEC industry.

Innovation in Practice

Marriott International Inc. has laid the plans for what will be the tallest modular hotel in the world, in Manhattan’s NoMad neighbourhood. Its 168 guest rooms will be assembled in a factory in Poland, shipped overseas and trucked into New York in the middle of the night, when the city streets can accommodate the oversized loads.

Most importantly, the 26 story hotel set to open in 2020 will only need 90 days to come to life.

The 168-room hotel is scheduled to rise at 842 Sixth Avenue with prefabricated guestrooms arriving at the hotel site fully constructed, inside and out. Besides finished, painted walls, each 'module' will contain a fully outfitted guest room – with beds, sheets, pillows, flooring and even toiletries.

The hotel’s roof and rooftop bar are expected to be produced using modular construction, and its more customized public areas such as the restaurant and lobby are expected to be constructed using traditional methods. Construction will begin in Q4 2019. An innovation that could very well revolutionise the design and construction industry.

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