Digital building technologies: bridging engineering, research and design
The exhibition Time Space Existence showcases some of the research projects that use digital building technologies to explore the complex interplay between nature, technology, and human craftsmanship. The exhibition also shows how digital building technologies can inspire new aesthetics and narratives that dissolve the boundaries between the natural and the artificial, the organic and the geometric, and the physical and the digital, inviting visitors to imagine new possibilities for architecture and design in the digital age.
The construction industry has a large environmental impact, accounting for 35% of global energy use and 8% of annual global carbon dioxide production. The strong links between building materials and climate change mean an urgent necessity to rethink current building materials and methods. One of the ways to achieve this is to adopt digital building technologies, which use computer-controlled processes to create, assemble, and manipulate physical structures. These technologies offer advantages like reduced materials, waste, and energy usage, along with enhanced geometric complexity and automation. Digital building technologies’ efficiency, sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and new design possibilities make them a promising solution for the future of architecture.
However, digital building technologies are not only a technical innovation, but also a creative one. They challenge the conventional boundaries between architecture, engineering, and art, and invite us to explore new forms of expression and interaction.
3D concrete printing is one of the main technological innovations in the construction field, offering advantages like reduced materials, waste, and energy usage, along with enhanced geometric complexity and automation. However, a novel approach called Injection 3D Concrete Printing (I3DCP) goes beyond the limitations of traditional 3D printing. I3DCP, developed by Technische Universität Braunschweig, Technical University of Munich, and Technical University of Berlin, involves robotically injecting concrete into a non-hardening liquid, enabling the creation of intricate lightweight structures previously unknown in concrete construction. I3DCP uses Vector-based Graphic Statics (VGS) to align the print path with complex stress trajectories, resulting in equilibrium-based design. The aim is to enhance 3D concrete printing’s efficiency, sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and open new design possibilities. In the historical venue of Palazzo Mora, they showcase fabricated demonstrators illustrating the integration of structure-informed strategies in early-phase I3DCP design.
The Marinaressa Coral Tree exhibited at Marinaressa Gardens is another example of the use of digital building technologies by the University of Stuttgart. The installation is a lightweight, filigree concrete structure exemplifying responsible resource use and the decarbonisation of the building industry. Embracing three key principles – minimality, circularity, and regenerability – it redefines conventional slab-to-column transitions. Minimality is achieved through weight reduction via computational optimisation, mimicking natural load-bearing systems. Circular design involves recyclable sand formworks for concrete segments, ensuring sustainability. Regenerability exploits cement’s ability to reabsorb carbon dioxide, promoting a carbon-neutral lifecycle. These principles address the construction industry’s environmental impact, emphasising lightweight design’s role in reducing ecological footprints. The interdisciplinary approach in the Marinaressa Coral Tree integrates technical, aesthetic, and environmental considerations for a holistic design approach.
Continuing on the theme of innovation in construction techniques, the award-winning Arroyo Bridge by MADWORKSHOP embodies an innovative fusion of architectural coordination, robotic fabrication, and the transformative potential of structure evolving into form. Spanning a 25m canyon in California, the bridge represents a creative and scientific collaboration, intertwining robots, human hands, ideas, drawings, and photographs. The accompanying sculpture, Arroyo Bridge Section, bridges craftsmanship and machine-made elements with its asymmetry and organic complexity, challenging the dichotomy of natural vs. technological and human vs. computer. Demonstrating nuanced possibilities, the sculpture, anchored by a steel base, symbolises fluidity and forward momentum, resembling a bird in flight. This innovative project explores the future of architecture, construction, and the intricate relationship between nature, technology, and human craftsmanship.
Besides the technical aspects of construction, the research on materials also plays a primary role in the field of digital building technologies. BioMat focuses on innovative solutions for sustainable architecture, leveraging materials as a design tool to address the construction industry’s substantial environmental impact. The project integrates emerging technologies like additive manufacturing, robotic fabrication, and computational design with natural materials such as fibres, wood, mycelium, and biocomposites. BioMat envisions these biomaterials permeating everyday architectural scenarios, promoting a circular economy aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The installation “Materials as a Design Tool” in Time Space Existence showcases projects advancing biomaterial applications in the built environment.
Challenging the conventional boundaries between architecture, engineering, and art, the Angelus Novus Collaborative, comprising the Form Finding Lab, UCHV Research Film Studio of Princeton University, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) architects and engineers, and researchers from the University of Bergamo, University of Salerno, and IE University, presents an installation inspired by Brunelleschi’s dome and Klee’s Angelus Novus artwork. The exhibit explores the self-balancing vault, a traditional construction method that was pivotal in architecture in the 13th century. Displayed in the garden of Palazzo Mora, a self-balancing masonry vault, constructed with augmented reality (AR), showcases the potential of combined human and machine intelligence. This approach, derived from Brunelleschi’s innovative 1418 dome construction, offers sustainable, gravity-defying architecture. The exhibition emphasises the dissolution of boundaries between architecture, engineering, and art, showcasing the intersection of human invention, technology, and a curved grid perspective.
Discover the theme of digital building technologies in Time Space Existence 2023, an exhibition that explores the complex interplay between nature, technology, and human craftsmanship with a particular attention to research, experimentation and new design approaches. You can visit the exhibition until the 26th of November in Palazzo Mora, Palazzo Bembo, and Marinaressa Gardens. You can also check out the profiles of the participants to learn more about their projects.