Digital Building
Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich
Zúrich, Suiza
From the middle of the 19th century, the transition from the traditional materials to steel, glass and machine production stirred the architectural discourse.

One aspect came into focus, one which up to that point was rarely kept in mind: the close relation between architecture and the specific conditions of materials and their structural emergence. This is when Gottfried Semper entered the discussion with his book Der Stil (Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts or Practical Aesthetics), published in 1860. Exchanging ideas with the materialist sciences, he developed a rather ‘parametric’ idea of material change and continuity. This not only put an emphasis on questions of style and culture, but also on the complex phenomena of ‘materialization.’ Semper argued that the intrinsic nature and material forms of architecture cannot be simply invented, but here appears the relation between design, construction and the process of materialization. Semper particularly drew on the Greek temple. According to Semper, the elements of the stone temple recall construction features of the wooden temple. Thus, in the transition from one material to another the ancient stone temple represents its structural history and the prevailing cultural influences. This particularly becomes evident when Semper tried to show something that was rather impossible to theorize: the transition from immateriality to materiality, from fluid correlations to differentiated structures. Today too, through computational design and digital fabrication, Semper’s materialist agenda becomes reconceptualized under the term Gestalt, in the sense of ‘information’ on the matter._x005F_x000D_

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©Gramazio & Kohler, ETH ZurichRafael Fitz, Michi Keller, Leo Kleine, Nathalie Pietrzko, Christian Rippstein
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Indeed, today we deal with a variety of manifestations of a fundamental change in the digital age of architecture. However, one point is certain: architectural design in the age of digital fabrication is no longer restricted to superficial appearance and perceptive modes. In fact, through new developments such as robotic fabrication, architecture has begun to detach itself from paper and the virtual space. Today, digital architectural design strives for materials and structures. This is clearly evident in the research of Gramazio & Kohler Architecture and Digital Fabrication on additive robotic fabrication of complex timber structures, where the craft of timber construction design and the craft of computer programming are directly linked. This involves researching strategically at 1:1 scale, understanding the digital not only as a metaphor of an architectural world of unlimited (virtual) possibilities resolved by complex simulations, but as information of matter where constructive and material characteristics offer unforeseen ventures in conceiving architectural designs. Such a synthesis develops its full potential in combination with a manufacturing machine capable of physically carrying out different materialization processes. An industrial robot meets this requirement on an architectural building scale. It is a generic tool and not specialized for one specific activity. It enables to reach into the conception of new material processes and puts the traditional resource wood into an entirely new technological context.

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©Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich
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©Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich
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©Alessandra Bello

For research projects such as The Sequential Wall (2008) or West Fest Pavilion (2009) a process was designed in which such an industrial robot first cut commercially available wooden slats to length and then stacked them in a free arrangement. This permits increasing not only the building components’ information level but those of the joints as well. Unlike large elements of shaped timber which are normally milled in order to create complex timber structures, the additive robotic fabrication enables to assemble a greater whole from small parts without subtracting material. This enables manufacturing highly articulated timber structures while also reducing material waste. Through coding the assembly logic, the interrelation of construction and fabrication becomes possible and leads to new architectural solutions, allowing to design with the specific characteristics of used material and at the same time shaping the process itself. In this regard, the architect can fully control the construction process down to the smallest detail whereas constructive, functional and formal criteria can be so tightly intertwined that they become mutually dependent._x005F_x000D_

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©Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich. Daria Blaschkiewitz, Leyla Ilman, Jennifer Koschack
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©Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich. Daria Blaschkiewitz, Leyla Ilman, Jennifer Koschack

Even more interestingly, the Latin verb ‘computare’ means the general function of bringing several things into correlation. Accordingly, the synthesis of design, construction and fabrication would already be implied within the term ‘digital fabrication.’ Conversely, this means that architecture becomes the primary expression of its fabrication process, separating itself from the traditional differentiation between construction and fabrication. Even when the number of functional requirements of a building element increases it is possible to address them with simple material components. On that scope, algorithmic design systems enable the selective manipulation of fabrication data whereby material can be structured according to its properties and functional requirements – a necessity when assembling a large amount of small pieces to a greater whole. The singular material elements are augmented with information that can enhance their performance. This results in more complex design and fabrication data where additive robotic fabrication makes it possible to define and codify material and structural relationships of the individual elements in order to operate in this ever increasing set of information. _x005F_x000D_ However, by no means all elements of traditional craft – specific to Switzerland’s building culture – are switched off. Quite the contrary, traditional craft becomes radically catalyzed through additive robotic fabrication, integrating ancient construction principles such as layering and cross-jointing into the digital manufacture. _x005F_x000D_

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©Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich
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©Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich. Christian Hoene, Stephan Pfeiffer

This enables a variable yet efficient design and manufacturing process of individual timber structures. While industrial approaches are often rigidly coupled to standardized construction and fabrication methods, the research on robotic fabrication conducted by Gramazio & Kohler allows integrating a wide range of design parameters, adapting easily to different geometries and individual building requirements. This not only connects to Semper’s Gestaltwerdung but also redirects the attention from idealistic and particular design processes to a comprehensive interrelation of technical, structural and material data. Exactly in this regard, Gramazio & Kohler Architecture and Digital Fabrication addresses the dynamic force of such a fundamental change as the digital turn would imply for the architectural discipline. Interestingly enough, this does not encapsulate unilateral strategies or ideological emphasis, but a so to speak ‘digital materiality’ that acknowledges the fact that the performance of fabrication and therefore many constructive principles are both bound to their scale and could be applied to digital technology. As a consequence, the research conducted trusts in an integral understanding for digital coherence where design, construction and fabrication are not part of an abstract realm of geometry and data but of a Gestaltwerdung where the very materiality of architecture is transformed. With recourse on this, the architectural borders between computation, construction and fabrication begin to dissolve, leading to a new and future-orientated ‘culture of design’ (Antoine Picon) where central formative potentials of an age crystallize on.

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©Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich. Michael Bühler, David Dalsass, Simon Filler, Roman Kallweit, Jonathan Roider

ETH Zurich, 2011
Architects: Gramazio & Kohler, Architecture and Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich
In collaboration with: Gregory Epps, Robofold and Daniel Piker, SpaceSymmetryStructure
Collaborators: Michael Knauß (jefe de proyecto project lead), Ralph Bärtschi, Mike Lyrenmann, Dominik Weber
Students: Moritz Berchtold, Fabio Bernasconi, Miro Eichelberger, Ozan Enginsal, Raphael Fitz, Pascal Genhart, Ricardo Joss, Michi Keller, Leo Kleine, Daniel Kostezer, Stefan Maier, Nathalie Pietrzko, Christian Rippstein, Jonas Ryser, Christian Schwizer, Maria Vrontissi, Jan Zachmann

FRAC Centre Orléans, 2011-2012
Architects: Gramazio & Kohler and Rafaello D’Andrea in cooperation with ETH Zurich
In collaboration with: Professorship Raffaelo D’Andrea, Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, ETH Zurich
Client: FRAC Centre (Coproductor Co-Producer)
Collaborators: Andrea Kondziela (jefe de proyecto­ project lead), Sarah Bridges, Tim Burton, Thomas Cadalbert, Dr. Ralph Bärschi, Peter Heckeroth, Marion Ott, Tanja Pereira, Dominik Weber, Dr. Jan Willmann
Selected experts: Chair of Building Physics Prof. Jan Carmeliet, ETH Zurich and Empa (pruebas en tunel de viento wind tunnel testing); Dr. Lüchinger and Meyer Bauingenieure AG (ingeniería estructural y de fachada structural and facade engineering); Amsteim and Walthert AG (consultoría energética energy consulting)
Sponsors: Pro Helvetia Swiss Arts Council, Centre Culturel Suisse Paris, Platform, Regroupement des Fonds régionaux d’art contemporain, Vicon Motion Systems, ERCO Leuchten GmbH, JET Schaumstoff – Formteile GmbH

Venice Architecture Biennale, 2007-2008
Architects: Gramazio & Kohler, Architecture and Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich
In collaboration with: Reto Geiser
Client: BAK- Bundesamt für Kultur
Collaborators: Michael Knauß (jefe de proyecto project lead), Ralph Bärtschi, Tobias Bonwetsch, Nadine Jerchau, Mike Lyrenmann, Gregor Bieri, Michael Bühler, Hannes Oswald, Lukas Pauer
Model Making: Lukas Pauer, Hannes Oswald
Sponsors: Keller Ziegeleien AG, Kuka Switzerland AG, Sika Switzerland AG

ETH Zurich, 2011
Architects: Gramazio & Kohler, Architecture and Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich
In collaboration with: Prof. Girot, ILA and Yael Girot, Atelier Girot
Collaborators: Michael Knauß (jefe de proyecto project lead), Ralph Bärtschi, Ilmar Hurkxkens, Dominik Weber_x005F_x000D_ Students: Tobias Abegg, Jonathan Banz, Mihir BBedekar, Daria Blaschkiewitz, Simon Cheung, Dhara Dhara Sushil Surana, Hernan, Kaspar Helfrich, Pascal Hendrickx, Leyla Ilman, Malte Kloes, Jennifer Koschack, Caspar Lohner, Jitesh Mewada, Lukas Pauer, Sven Rickhoff, Martin Tessarz, Ho Kan Wong

ETH Zurich, 2008
Architects: Gramazio & Kohler, Architecture and Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich
Collaborators: Silvan Oesterle (jefe de proyecto project lead), Ralph Bärtschi, Mike Lyrenmann
Students: Michael Bühler, David Dalsass, Simon Filler, Milena Isler, Roman Kallweit, Morten Krog, Ellen Leuenberger, Jonas Nauwelaertz de Agé, Jonathan Roider, Steffen Samberger, Chantal Thomet, Rafael Venetz, Nik Werenfels
Industry partner: Häring Timber Engineering, Isoflock

London, 2011
Architects: Gramazio & Kohler, Architecture and Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich
In collaboration with: BLOCK Research Group: Assitant chair of Building Structure Philippe Block
Client: Fabricate2011 / UCL London
Collaborators: Michael Knauß (jefe de proyecto project lead), Ralph Bärtschi, Michael Lyrenmann, Maria Vrontissi
Students: Christian Aguayo, Edyta Augustynowicz, Jonas Epper, Sofia Georgakopoulou, Paul Marie Guillaume Gillet, Luis Gisler, Christian Hoene, Matthew Huber, Benz Hubler, Jonathan Kischkel, Jessica Knobloch, Jeannette Kuo, Anna Golde Marschall, Teresa McWalters, Ge Men, Ingunn Nordlie, Stephan Pfeiffer, Christopher Rofe, Jia Rujun, Samar Said, Manuela Sedlar, Tobias Tommila, Dominik Zausinger

London, 2011
Architects: Gramazio & Kohler, Architecture and Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich
In collaboration with: Bachmann Engineering AG, Zofingen
Client: Fabricate2011 / UCL London
Collaborators: Andrea Kondziela (jefe de proyecto project lead),Volker Helm, Ralph Bärtschi, Dominik Weber

Sitterwerk, St. Gallen, 2014
Architects: Gramazio & Kohler, Architecture and Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich
In collaboration with: Felix Lehner (Sitterwerk Kunst und Produktion), Julia Lütolf, Ariane Roth, Laurin Schaub
Collaborators: Sebastian Ernst (jefe de proyecto project lead), Kathrin Dörfier, Luka Piskorec
Students: Ralph Benker, Bo Cheng, Roberto Naboni, Pascal Ruckstuhl, IVana Stiperski, Simone Stünzi, Anna Szabo, Andreas Thoma, Martin Thoma, Alexander Nikolas Walzer, James Yeo
Sponsors: Fersto AG, Schweiz; Hans und Wilma Stutz Stiftung, Herisau; IKEA Stiftung, Basel (Schweiz)

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©François Lauginie

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