From manual to digital and vice versa

Digitalization, labor, and construction

Last updated: November 01, 2018 Cairo, Egypt

The unfavorable environmental impact of the construction industry with respect to carbon emissions through embodied and operational energy, production of waste, and depletion of resources is well known. Given the highly problematic state of affairs and corresponding urgency of resolving our shared predicament, it is imperative to develop disruptive technologies to stimulate improvement on all fronts. This demands a multi-disciplinary, fully-integrated design approach by which the fields of architecture, structural engineering, mechanical engineering/building systems, and construction work together to provide better solutions.

These solutions cannot be general; instead, they must be adaptive to different economic, geographic, and political contexts. In developed contexts, where labor costs are high relative to material costs, prefabrication is favored whenever possible. In developing contexts, engineered materials such as concrete, steel, or structural timber are either prohibitively expensive or simply not available, though labor here remains comparatively inexpensive. Capitalizing on locally available resources, both material and human, can result in substantial socio-economic benefits. Thus, in order to construct appropriately, i.e., to maximize the potential of both labor and materials, while minimizing environmental impact, the specificities of context are paramount.

While digital design might contribute to more efficient construction methods, whether with regard to a building’s structural performance, material quality, or assembly process, the question remains as to what the role of manual work will be in increasingly digitalized contexts. What are the opportunities and risks when translating technologies from one context to another? Could combinations of digital and manual fabrication be considered that embrace the inherent advantages of both? Addressing such questions, the workshop “from manual to digital and vice versa” will investigate potential mutually-reinforcing relations between digitalization and manual labor. Visionary solutions for a range of contexts will be explored and creativity encouraged.

By confronting a series of tensions – manual vs. digital, craft vs. machine, tradition vs. innovation, and vernacular vs. high-tech – we will devise resourceful technical solutions and challenge what is typically considered appropriate in different contexts. We will investigate to what extent the trends of digitalization can offer new opportunities and examine instances where the application of digital solutions may in fact prove unintentionally detrimental. By addressing such topics as material innovation, the impact of materials on building systems integration and/or thermal comfort, prefabrication vs. on-site construction, and mass and/or emergency housing solutions, the workshop “From manual to digital and vice versa: Digitalization, labor, and construction” offers a chance to learn from best practices and an incentive to strive for consequential, collaborative solutions.