researchers from ETH zurich are using a new method for digital timber construction in a real project for the first time. the load-bearing timber modules, which are prefabricated by robots, will be assembled on the top two floors at the ‘dfab house’ construction site. the ‘spatial timber assemblies’ project combines architecture with robotics and craftsmanship.

 

digitalization has found its way into timber construction, with entire elements already fabricated by computer-aided systems. the raw material is cut to size by the machines, but in most cases, it still has to be manually assembled to create a plane frame. in the past, this fabrication process came with many geometric restrictions.


dfab house

 

 

under the auspices of the national centre of competence in research (NCCR) digital fabrication, researchers from ETH zurich’s chair of architecture and digital fabrication have developed a new, digital timber construction method that expands the range of possibilities for traditional timber frame construction by enabling the efficient construction and assembly of geometrically complex timber modules. spatial timber assemblies evolved from a close collaboration with vompany erne ag holzbau and will be used for the first time in the dfab house project at the empa and eawag nest research and innovation construction site in dübendorf. it is also the first large-scale architectural project to use the construction robots developed by ETH zurich’s new robotic fabrication laboratory.

 


video by ETH zurich

 

 

the robot first takes a timber beam and guides it while it is sawed to size. after an automatic tool change, a second robot drills the required holes for connecting the beams. in the final step, the two robots work together and position the beams in the precise spatial arrangement based on the computer layout. to prevent collisions when positioning the individual timber beams, the researchers have developed an algorithm that constantly recalculates the path of motion for the robots according to the current state of construction. workers then manually bolt the beams together.

 

the robots use information from a computer-aided design model to cut and arrange the timber beams. this method was specially developed during the project and uses various input parameters to create a geometry consisting of 487 timber beams in total.

 

 

unlike traditional timber frame construction, spatial timber assemblies can manage without reinforcement plates because of the required rigidity and load-bearing result from the geometric structure. a total of six spatial, geometrically unique timber modules will be prefabricated in this way for the first time. lorries will then transport them to the dfab house construction site at the nest in dübendorf, where they will be joined to build a two-story residential unit with more than 100 sqm of floor space. the complex geometry of the timber construction will remain visible behind a transparent membrane façade.

 

 

the fact that spatial timber assemblies is being used for digital fabrication and also in design and planning offers a major advantage according to matthias kohler, professor of architecture and digital fabrication at ETH zurich and the man spearheading the dfab house project: ‘if any change is made to the project overall, the computer model can be constantly adjusted to meet the new requirements. this kind of integrated digital architecture is closing the gap between design, planning, and execution.’

 

 

‘digital fabrication depends on the tremendous expertise required for craftsmanship. conversely, digitalization can improve craftsmanship and open up new opportunities.’ kohler also says the fact that scientific disciplines go hand in hand with industry is essential if technologies are to be used in real architectural projects after such a brief time.

 

  • “…new method for digital timber construction in a real project for the first time……digitalization has found its way into timber construction, with entire elements already fabricated by computer-aided systems…”

    New to whom???

    Traditional historic Timberwrights, and other traditional woodworkers have been utilizing CAD modeling of timber frames architecture for over 20 years. This is modernization without soul or true understanding of the materials from an earth based or traditional mindset is pointless. There is little (…to no???) compassion for the materials or internalized traditional cognizance or comprehension of how these materials can actually work together in complete concert. These “machines” are now being asked to treat natural materials as if they are homogenized plastics or alloys, without fully implementing the historic scope and potential of the material that is wood.

    “…in the past, this fabrication process came with many geometric restrictions…”

    Who’s past???

    I, nor those that taught me, ever spoke of “restrictions.” The only limit was within an individuals imagination. If one took it upon themselves to learn and advance their individual skill sets the limits to what could be designed and built with stone, timber and earth was virtually limitless. This was also done without the elements of modernity, and the architecture still exists today. I don’t see what is being built today (or by these “new methods”) lasting nearly as long. So how is it they are superior or better in any way?

    “…digital timber construction…expands the range of traditional timber frame construction by enabling the efficient construction and assembly of geometrically complex timber modules…”

    It does…how???

    These types of definitive statements about “traditional timber frame construction” being offered by those that…are not…traditional artisan nor Timberwrights themselves is simply obtuse.

    Timberwrights today, and historically, never worked inefficiently nor where unable to facilitate and assemble extremely complex timber frames. The proof still stands within the vernacular record today, though poorly understood by most, taken care of and often neglected. There is simply no real improvement here with these machines. There is “industrialization” and “modernization,” that is a true statement, of that there is no doubt. Yet, I see very little actual improvement at all. Not until the traditional modalities are fully embraced and understood by the machines designers will technology actual come to full implantation and augmentation to craft and facilitation of timber architecture…

    “…unlike traditional timber frame construction, spatial timber assemblies can manage without reinforcement plates because of the required rigidity and load-bearing result from the geometric structure…”

    Again, this is simply a false and non-reality based statement.

    Timber frame architecture has been in existence for over 4000 years. Timber framing (and traditional architecture) was better understood 100 years ago than it is today. There are only a limited number of practitioners left that fully understand the range and potential of timber, stone and earth architecture, and this knowledge will be lost if not better promoted by educational institutions and society at large. This innate push to employ technology without the fundamental understanding of traditional building materials first is a dead end road. Promotion of the tradtional understanding first is the only truly efficient way technological augmentation will be fully taken advantage of in meaningful ways within human advancements in technology.

    according to Matthias Kohler, professor of architecture and digital fabrication at ETH zurich: “…this kind of integrated digital architecture is closing the gap between design, planning, and execution…digital fabrication depends on the tremendous expertise required for craftsmanship… conversely, digitalization can improve craftsmanship and open up new opportunities…”

    It can only actually “improve craftsmanship” if the fundamental elements of traditional craftsmanship is fully internalized. I have not seen this demonstrated yet by any program that is “trying” to cut corners with technology…without…understanding the fundamentals completely first.

    Jay C. White Cloud says:

have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.

comments policy
LOG IN
designboom's comment policy guidelines
generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

- please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
- please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
- please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
- please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
- please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
(there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
the best 100-200 entries too.)

a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.

PRODUCT LIBRARY

a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

technology news