Architectural fabrication: printing buildings

Paul Raven @ 08-04-2011

Via Alex “Robot Overlords” Knapp, here’s a Technology Review piece about architect and MIT Media Lab boffin Neri Oxman, who’s picking up the architectural-scale 3D printing ball – still currently in its crude early phases, but eminently plausible – and running with it. The possibilities offered by bespoke design speak seductively to these geologically troubled times:

The work is at an early stage, but the new approach to construction and design suggests many new possibilities. A load-bearing wall could be printed in elaborate patterns that correspond to the stresses it will experience from the load it supports from wind or earthquakes, for instance.

The pattern could also account for the need to allow light into a building. Some areas would have strong, dense concrete, but in areas of low stress, the concrete could be extremely porous and light, serving only as a barrier to the elements while saving material and reducing the weight of the structure. In these non-load bearing areas, it could also be possible to print concrete that’s so porous that light can penetrate, or to mix the concrete gradually with transparent materials. Such designs could save energy by increasing the amount of daylight inside a building and reducing the need for artificial lighting. Eventually, it may be possible to print efficient insulation and ventilation at the same time. The structure can be complex, since it costs no more to print elaborate patterns than simple ones.

Just a proof-of-concept at this point, admittedly, but given how quickly 3D printing at a smaller scale has moved from theoretical future-thing to affordable DIY technohobby, the way we design and build our buildings – at least in the affluent parts of the world which can afford to consider aesthetics and disaster-proofing, rather than focussing on the simple need to construct a shelter quickly and cheaply – could change pretty rapidly. Which means that the Walkabout 3D Mobile augmented reality app is the precursor of a tool that will be essential to privileged NIMBYistas everywhere… after all, everyone loves progress, right up until the point that it interferes with their line of sight or property values. (NIMBYism is inherently a legacy of Gothic Hi-Tech; Favela Chic accepts intrusions and makes the best it can of them.)


Design for the Soul

Brenda Cooper @ 23-02-2011

Bangkok Airport, exteriorLast month, I talked about what the future needs from us. One of the things I mentioned was better governance. I suspect there’s no actual link, but people seem to be arguing for better governance, not only in Tahrir square but other places as well. This month I decided to focus on one frontier of the brave innovation theme I also think we need: sense-of-wonder design. I’m a science fiction reader, and a lot of the stories I remember best have excellent and fascinating design ideas. Rama. Ringworld. Stillsuits. Continue reading “Design for the Soul”


Brixton reimagined as favela for robot workers

Paul Raven @ 20-01-2011

Urban futurism, offered without comment: via the incomparable BLDGBLOG, this image by the wonderfully-monicker’d Kibwe X-Kalibre Tavares is called “Southwyck House”, and is part of a set of similar images “of what Brixton could be like if it were to develop as a disregarded area inhabited by London’s new robot workforce […] the population has rocketed and unplanned cheap quick additions have been made to the skyline.”

[Click the image to see the original in bigger sizes on Flickr; all rights are reserved by Tavares, and the image is reproduced here under Fair Use terms. Please contact for immediate take-down if required.]

Southwyck House by Kibwe X-Kalibre Tavares

My first thought on seeing that? Kowloon Walled City. Dense urban populations lead inevitably to an increased density of marginal and/or interstitial regions…


Building robots building robot buildings…

Paul Raven @ 17-01-2011

Behold the potential future of building; construction workers, you may want to start training for your second career NOW.

Oh, so you’re not impressed by that? OK, so imagine large swarms of smaller versions of those quadrotor critters assembling constructions which themselves are autonomous, modular, quasi-sentient and self-repairing

From BotJunkie, via George Dvorsky; cheers, George. 🙂


Looking back on Cyborg Month

Paul Raven @ 01-10-2010

When Tim Maly invited me to contribute to the 50 Posts About Cyborgs project, I had a nagging suspicion that I’d have a run-in with impostor syndrome… and I was right. The nearly complete run of posts (49 of them linked from the Tumblr above as I type this) contains some of the smartest and most brain-expanding material I’ve read in a long, long time, from some incredibly erudite writers and thinkers. If you have any interest whatsoever in the post-modern human condition in a technology-saturated world, in where we came from as a species and where we’re going, or in what being (post?)human actually means, then there’ll be something there for you to enjoy – so go read.

And many thanks Tim for inviting me to take part; I’m one proud impostor. 🙂


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