Robots and 3D printing are taking the next step, and it is gigantic. Four years ago, eight professors from the ETH Zurich University in Switzerland enchanted an idea to use robots and 3D printers to envisage a three-storeyed home known as DFAB House at a local research and innovation campus.
In collaboration with their business partners, the professors designed and built the DFAB House, claimed is the first digitally constructed House in the world using digital design systems and processes. The DFAB House aimed to inculcate the team open to challenges and testing theories for discovering building and energy technologies in practicality. The robotically fabricated mesh-moulding method configured the transition from research to functional applications.
“Unlike construction projects that use only a single digital building technology, such as 3D-printed houses, the DFAB House brought a range of new digital building technologies together,” said the project’s initiator, ETH professor Matthias Kohler.
The expert team explored numerous advantages of each particular method, and their synergies were expressed architecturally. The DFAB House is part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication project erected at NEST – a modular research and innovation building on the Dübendorf campus operated by the Empa Institute For Material Science And Technology Development and the Eawag Aquatic Research Organisation.
Initially, they ran a series of test modules installed on platforms surrounding the periphery of the core NEST (Next Evolution in Sustainable Building Technologies) structure. A two-metre-high construction robot was mounted on caterpillar tracks to fabricate steel-wire mesh sections that function as formwork and reinforcement for concrete walls.
The in-situ fabricator created double-curved shapes from a dense mesh. A unique concrete mix was used to fill the formwork without leakage. The concrete hardened to form a load-bearing wall to be topped with a 3D printed, statically optimized and functionally integrated ceiling slab. The structure was installed at the centre of an open-living plan and working area on the ground floor of the DFAB House. The concrete facade was produced using an automated robotic slip-forming process.
ETH Zurich’s Robotic Fabrication Laboratory further raised two storeys above ground prefabricated using robots that assembled timber elements to create individual spaces. The 200-square-metre DFAB House is used as a residential and working space for guest researchers and partners of the NEST project. The team’s exponential fastidiousness in conceiving the project from concept to reality demonstrated the desire from both the researchers and the industry to accelerate the exploration of innovative digital robotic technologies.
“We are convinced that this collaboration is worthwhile for both sides,” Kohler added.
“An increasing number of Swiss companies, such as Erne AG Holzbau, which is the general contractor for the DFAB house and was previously involved in building the Arch_Tec_Lab at ETH Zurich, want to proactively use the opportunities of digital technologies – something that gives us great pleasure.”
The fundamental interaction of technology in the DFAB House showcased optimization and efficiency for a home within its entire undulating formwork and translucent geometries. The design intrigued minds to know the new technology and advance its aesthetic language to envision spaces that really matter.