Jonathan Glancey at 1843:
In a workshop south-east of Stuttgart’s city centre, builders can fly. Here, programmed by students at Stuttgart University’s Institute for Computational Design (ICD), drones buzz around like purposeful bees, fetching and carrying long threads of carbon fibre spun by a robot in the middle of the room. Bit by bit, and without the help of a single human hand, the drones shape these strands into a structure.
The workshop is run by Achim Menges, a German architect and the founder of the ICD. He is at the forefront of the rapidly evolving field of robotic architecture, in which robots make not only the components of buildings but also assemble the buildings themselves. This approach offers two advantages. The first is that it saves money and time. This year in Vienna, Coop Himmelblau, an Austrian architectural firm, will use robots to help build a new hotel tower, the machines lifting and welding the panels that form the building’s exterior into place. Wolf D. Prix, the architect behind the project, estimates that robots could reduce construction times and manpower by as much as 90%, which gives architects more freedom to create.
In California, Ron Culver and Joseph Sarafian have developed an unlikely method of making intricate structures out of concrete using robots and Lycra. Traditionally, concrete is formed using hard moulds; for each different shape you want to generate you need a different mould.