using innovative robotic technology developed over the past year, gramazio kohler research, ETH zurich, and the self-assembly lab at MIT have built an architectural installation from low-grade granular material constructed by robotic machines. presented at the chicago architecture biennial 2015, ‘rock print’ employs a specifically designed algorithm to guide a robotic arm in a three-dimensional, additive process.


the device has positioned a textile filament layer-by layer around a loose granular material, forming a large-scale architectural artefact in a column-like shape that requires no additional supporting elements. the installation presents a radically new approach to the ‘state of the art of architecture’ – the official title of the inaugural chicago architecture biennial – and brings forth a new class of potentially fully reusable structures that can be automatically fabricated in non-standard shapes.



rock print, architectural installation at the inaugural chicago architecture biennial 2015
video courtesy of  




the distinct features of the finished ‘rock print’ structure include full material reversibility and the reusability of the aggregated materials; structurally active interlocking, differentiated structural performance, and high geometric flexibility. the finalized structure offers a unique union of state-of-the-art digital fabrication technology and building material science, introducing a sustainable, economical, and structurally sound construction method that fundamentally challenges conventional architectural practices.

the robotically-printed rocks form a column-like shape
image © designboom

layer by layer, rocks are robotically added to the architectural structure

detail of the 3D printed surface

the construction method challenges conventional architectural practices

the structure offers a unique union of digital fabrication technology and building material science
image © designboom

(foreground) house is a house is a house is a house, 2015 / johnston marklee
photo by tom harris / © hedrich blessing
image courtesy of the chicago architecture biennial

the ‘printing’ process on site at the chicago architecture biennial 2015

robotic arm laying a textile filament using a specialized algorithm

the column is built within a supporting structural frame



project info:


project title: rock print
credits: gramazio kohler research, eth zurich, and self-assembly lab, MIT
team: prof. fabio gramazio, prof. matthias kohler, skylar tibbits, andreas thoma (project lead installation), petrus aejmelaeus-lindström (project research lead), dr. volker helm, sara falcone, lina kara’in, michael lyrenmann, george varnavides, stephane de weck, dr. jan willmann
selected experts: prof. dr. hans j. herrmann and dr. falk k. wittel, eth zurich; prof. dr. heinrich jaeger and kieran murphy, university of chicago
selected consultants: walt + galmarini ag
sponsors: pro helvetia swiss arts council, swissnex, misapor, and beton ag
support: the project is supported by eth zurich and the department of architecture as well as by an eth zurich research grant. it is co-supported by mit’s department of architecture, the mit international design center, and an mit international science and technology initiative (misti) grant.


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the chicago architecture biennial provides a platform for groundbreaking architectural projects and spatial experiments that demonstrate how creativity and innovation can radically transform our lived experience.


the inaugural chicago architecture biennial, north america’s largest international survey of contemporary architecture, launched in october 2015. through its constellation of exhibitions, full-scale installations, and program of events, the biennial invites the public to engage with and think about architecture in new and unexpected ways, and to take part in a global discussion about the future of the field.


the chicago architecture biennial is the vision of mayor rahm emanuel for a major international architectural event and an outcome of the comprehensive cultural plan developed by chicago’s department of cultural affairs and special events. it is presented through the support of BP, and in partnership with the city of chicago and the graham foundation for advanced studies in the fine arts.


the chicago architecture biennial remains open to the public until january 3, 2015.