ITA Institute of Technology in Architecture
The ITA Institute
of Technology in Architecture – ITA Institut fur
Technologie in Arkitektur – onETH Zurich’s Campus, Hönggerberg is one of the
University’s most recent large-scale investments, reflecting the pace of
technological change and digital tech’s complete absorption into architecture, engineering,
and the building sector.
Again, like other institutes, the ITA
does not have any specific timber agenda, but its focus on building and digital
building technologies encompasses timber. Albeit in only a very few places, a
focus on timber is evident within its seven chairs and four interconnected technology
labs. These include the Robotic Fabrication Laboratory, a 3D Printing Lab, and
the Adaptive Building Systems Lab. The country’s National
Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication is
housed within the ITA, and there is considerable crossover and collaboration
with Empa and its NEST research programme, which includes a timber construction
The institute is housed in a new building, the Arc_Tech_Lab, built on the roof of a university car park. The lab’s own roof – and ceiling – is a showcase for robotic additive timber design.
Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication – Gramazio Kohler Research
Of the seven studios, it is the
Architecture and Digital Fabrication, headed up by digital architects, Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, who have been
the most consistently involved with timber as part of the palette of materials
explored through the lens of digital fabrication.
Known within the ETH context as Gramazio
Kohler Research, a series of timber related research projects extend back over
the last decade. These include their most recent Future Tree project, the
Arq_Tech_Lab Sequential Roof, the Spatial Timber Assemblies NCCR partnership on
the DFAB House, and the long-term Additive Robotic Fabrication of Complex
Timber Structures programme running from 2012 through to 2017.
GramazioKohler and their work are featured in Fourth Door Review 8, and in Unstructured 4
Future Tree – a collaborative project exploring a hybrid timber pavilion canopy supported by a concrete column post, both of which have been made by different robotic applications. The canopy is a robotically assembled reciprocal frame. Each of its 380 acetylated timber elements are unique geometric forms, and the canopy’s geometry was determined computationally, with the evaluation of the structure programmed to highlight how automated data exchange between architectural software (Rhino) and the engineer’s structural analysis application can work in an integrated way. Other aspects of this parallel automated design include the geometry of the screws which join the timber elements, and which again have been developed alongside the automated evolution of the reciprocal frame design. The resulting canopy, spanning 107 m2, is supported by the 3D printed, and equally minimal formwork – further expression of the project’s objectives – and has been installed outside the Basler & Hoffmann offices in Esslingen, one of the project partners’ HQ. A promotional video of the construction process is here.
Deep Timber – Reinforcement Learning for Robotic Assembly of Timber Joints (2018-2019) – one of the most recent research projects continues Gramazio Kohler Research’s investigations of automated fabrication in the context of timber materials and structure. Working with Autodesk Robotics Lab, Deep Timber’s research also shifts the focus onto machine learning, specifically Deep Reinforcement Learning, which in contrast to the usual forms of robot learning, enables real-time adaptation and robotic systems to respond to inaccuracies in the fabrication. The research uses joint detailing to illustrate its investigation, providing a context to demonstrate and observe how programming novel machine learning adapts control of robot movements based on its experienced contact forces, enabling it to more accurately insert and position elements into each other, during the construction process.
A part of Empa’s NEST research into the digital fabrication of buildings, the rooms of DFAB House’s upper two floors feature complex 3D geometries on the room’s façade timber structures, which were robotically constructed. A core objective was for the robotic fabrication to be integrated into the computational design so that the design ensured that the multiple robotic assembly, essentially two robots, collaboratively constructed the structure in space – rather than on a flatbed. The 2016-2018 collaborative project, with ETH Zurich’s Robotic Fabrication Laboratory, used multi-robotic fabrication structural and assembly processes enabling a high level of stiffness in the optimised lightweight timber frame to carry lateral loads by the structure itself without requiring further stiffening plates, with the beams cut by CNC saws, before being milled and pre-drilled for holes ready for connection detailing.
Related research papers:
Robotic Fabrication of Bespoke Timber Frame Modules. Thoma, A.,
Adel, A., Helmreich, M., Wehrle, T., Gramazio, F. and Kohler, M. In Robotic Fabrication in
Architecture, Art and Design 2018 edited by Willmann, J.,
Block, P., Hutter, M., Byrne, K., and Schork, T. 447–58. Springer.
Design of Robotically Fabricated Timber Frame Structures. Arash, A., Thoma, A., Helmreich, M., Gramazio, F. and Kohler, M. in the 38th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), Edited by Anzalone, P., Del Signore, M. and Wit, A. J. Mexico City, Mexico, October 18-20, 2018.
The Sequential Roof – Arc_Tech_Lab – sits above the main open concourse of the Arch_Tec_Lab building,
covering 2308 m2. It provides a dramatic showcase to the robotic
fabrication at the heart of the ITA. Developed by Arch_Tec_Lab AG, Gramazio
Kohler Research were at the forefront of the ITA design team, and the design of
the rippling deck structure. The roof contains nearly 50,000 (48,624) timber slats,
which were robotically assembled to sit within 168 individual truss beams, each
up to 15 m long, assembled robotically to form the complex deck geometry
spanning the building’s upper storey floors. The design emerged out of
integrated digital planning, drawing together design, structural analysis, and
the fabrication data generation. As a demonstration project, the building
includes various other sustainable features developed within different ETH
Zurich departments, including zero emissions technology such as its ‘airbox’
ventilation, which is connected to the campus’s energy grid.
A fact sheet
is found here.
Mastering the Sequential Roof.Computational Methods for Integrating Design, Structural Analysis, and Robotic Fabrication, Apolinarska, A., Bärtschi, R., Furrer, R., Gramazio, F., and Kohler, M. in Advances in Architectural Geometry, ed. Adriaenssens, S., Gramazio, F., Kohler, M. and Menges, A. (2016). The Sequential Roof. Apolinarska, A., Knauss, M., Gramazio, F. Kohler, M. in Advancing Wood Architecture: A Computational Approach Menges, A. et al Routledge (2016).
Complex Timber Structures from Simple Elements: Computational Design of Novel Bar Structures for Robotic Fabrication and Assembly PhD Apolinarska, Aleksandra Anna(2018).
Earlier research projects:
Additive Robotic Fabrication of Complex Timber Structures, Zurich, 2012-2017
The Stacked Pavilion, Temporary wooden structure Wettswill am Albis, Switzerland, 2009
Superwood, Monte Rosa: Digital Wood Carvings in the Restaurant of the Monte Rosa Alpine Hut, 2008-2009
The Monte Rosa Superwood Project was a part of the CLT research conducted by prof Andrea Deplazes in 2008/9, as chair of Architecture and Construction within the Institute of Architecture and Design (IEA).