Towards a digital building culture

  • 1 / 1

    Project entry 2011 Europe – High-efficiency concrete formwork technology, Zurich, Switzerland

    Digital formwork planning.

Matthias Kohler, Professor of Architecture & Digital Fabrication has taken over the leadership of a Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research. Matthias Kohler is project author of High-efficiency concrete formwork technology which won both a Holcim Awards Acknowledgement prize for Europe in 2011 and the inaugural global Holcim Innovation 1st prize in 2012.

Last updated: December 30, 2013 Zurich, Switzerland

The work of Matthias Kohler and his team and project partners on digital fabrication in architecture is now a National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) supported by the Swiss government. The magazine of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH News, spoke to Matthias Kohler about why it is so important that novel design and fabrication processes evolve and that such a research approach does not remain purely theoretical. Research on digital fabrication in architecture is a relatively new area, but interest in it has grown substantially over the past few years. The fact that the political sphere and the government are now also supporting the issue at a national level opens up completely new research opportunities. 

The NCCR Digital Fabrication will explore what a new digital building culture that meets the technological possibilities of the information age might look like. There are three areas of focus: the first area concerns the design and building processes. Nowadays, architects work almost exclusively on computers, but it is still unclear whether and how this affects the design and construction process itself. Here we are looking for new instruments to bring the design, planning and construction phases closer together in order to directly inter-relate them.

The second research area is almost obvious: anyone who wants to change the fundamental building culture needs new materials and construction processes. The third focus revolves around customized production. What happens if industrially manufactured parts can be individually manufactured? What happens if digitally controlled machines operate directly on a construction site? These three topics will be closely intertwined and examined on an interdisciplinary basis within this NCCR.

Field tests to construct full-scale building elements

The research team is constantly undergoing field tests, because their research on novel digital fabrication processes automatically takes place under real conditions. An important milestone in the project will be the construction of a full scale demonstrator after the first four years. New architecture and construction technologies can be tested at “Nest”, EMPA’s new building laboratory. The team will build a residential unit there, thus demonstrating the synthesis of the NCCR approach – learning most effectively by “making” – real physical implementation at full scale.

The research also seeks to progress building culture to become an innovative interplay between everyone involved in the design and construction process. This will also include a progressive change of the built environment and living environments of the next generation.

kohler-mat13zrh01.jpgCollaboration with research institutes

The research project is a large collaboration with several research institutes. At ETH alone, scientists from the departments of architecture, IT, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and process engineering, and civil, environmental and geomatic engineering are involved. All these disciplines have a different understanding of research. One of the key challenges will be to synthesize these approaches and arrive at innovative methods and results together.

Read full interview with Matthias Kohler at: ETH News, December 17, 2013