25 May 2020 
11 January 2019

Domotex: Creating with the help of digital technology

Digital tools and smart materials support the creative process of designers and architects opening new horizons. Professor Martin Tamke from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation discusses these developments with DIE MESSE.

Photo: CITA / Anders IngvartsenPhoto: CITA / Anders Ingvartsen
For the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Prof. Martin Tamke designed the Isoropia installation.
Professor Tamke, on Friday, 11 January you are giving a speech at the Domotex Talks in Hall 9 (Talk I – Connected by technology). What are you going to talk about?
Technology is often understood as necessary mean to materialise design and eventually as a way to produce design more efficiently. Working at the forefront of computational design and manufacturing for CNC knitted textiles, where we can specify the structure and performance of a material on loop level, we demonstrate how technology can be a driver for new designs and spatial atmospheres and provide new answers to questions of efficient assembly and fabrication. Technology allows us to make materials and elements specific to site and performances and answer the pressing need for more adaptive and more sustainable architecture.

The talk will show how this innovation is grounded in interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration, where innovation does not take place at one place of the chain form design to fabrication, but through the connection of existing technologies and innovative use of these. The foundation for these innovation exists today in every area of the industry, as all processes are digitalised. It is upon all parts in the industry to make creative use of this digital platform and unleash the inherent potential for innovation and more efficient and sustainable production.

Domotex Talk I deals with connectivity, digital transformation and smart materials. How will creativity in design and architecture change by means of new technologies and materials?
The scope of design and architecture extends today the product itself. We are held responsible for the behaviour and performance of the designed, not at least because of the major ecological and societal challenges, we are facing. Creative opportunities arise through thinking in systems and value chains and critically questioning the status quo. This applies especially to materials and their making. In Architecture the understanding of materials as something, which is designed and made is not very widespread – not at least due to prohibitive regulations.

Advances in computation, materials and production allow us however to think more creatively about materials and give them a way more active part for buildings or structures performance than today. Design integrated simulation allows us to design for instance with the behaviour of materials under load and allow for radically new and light weight solutions. And live data from sensors in objects, buildings and from production of materials and elements, can be integrated in design systems using e.g. machine learning. This provides novel insights into the behaviour of materials and buidlings and opens opportunities for design.

You have been working at the Centre for Information Technology and Architecture (CITA) in Copenhagen since 2006 focusing on the interface between computational design and design implementation. Could you give some examples of your research projects?
As a research centre CITA examines how new information and communication technologies fundamentally challenges architectural practice as a tool for design, fabrication and communication. We use a practice based research method, focused on the conceptualisation, design and realisation of working prototypes and full-scale demonstrators. CITA’s work has a strong cross-disciplinary focus and consolidates new collaborations with interdisciplinary partners from the fields of engineering, design, robotics and material science. Our work takes place in small and large research projects, many of these in European collaborations, such as Flora Robotica, Duraark or Innochain.

My work focuses recently on two of our research areas: Digital Formations, investigating complex modelling and Building Information Modelling as a new design tool for architecture and digital fabrication. Here we investigate for instance, how design integrated machine learning and simulation allows architects to use data from their still running projects in order to predict their designs performance and make creative use of information heavy workflows.

Behaving Architectures, investigating new programmable materials and smart textiles, as in the collaboration on Phase Change Materials for facades with Kieran Timberlake architects in Philadelphia or the Isoropia project for the Venice Biennale 2018.

One of your primary research areas is digital and robotic fabrication. Will entire houses or furniture in the future be manufactured by robots and 3-D printers?
I think, that there are two aspects to this question: The first is, that we are in dire need of more automatisation in building industry. The global urbanisation in parallel with the demographic developments in Europe pose unprecedented challenges to the building industry – there is an ever growing gap between the produced and needed buildings and the employed and necessary employees in the sector. Working with robots and digital fabrication processes, such as additive manufacturing, are strategies to tackle this challenge and as well an opportunity to rethink the way we build and design.

This is the second aspect of the question: automatisation requires in general a way deeper understanding and better planning of processes than present in construction industry today. With higher degrees of automatisation a building has to be deeply understood before execution, this requires deeper knowledge, simulation and thinking about a building – something which can be only positive in the end. Not at least, as we might reduce the infamous and expensive last minute on site decision making and error fixing.

All of this requires holistic thinking and offers great opportunities to find new solutions on how a wall, a floor, a window, a construction site is designed. Suddenly it might be better to use the ability of robots to adapt to materials and changes in environments, than to produce standardised solutions. It might be better to integrate joints into the building element itself, as these indicate assembly to the persons or robots on site. And the limited amount of material, which a 3-D printer can deposit in a certain time might make material saving solutions favourable, where structural strength is created through informed shape rather than pure mass. A design opportunity and path to more sustainable solutions.

For the Danish Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale you have designed the Isoropia project, an installation of over 40 m in length featuring highly bendingactive membrane structures. What did you want to demonstrate with this construction?
We have been working in the field of architectural textiles since CITA was founded and see besides potentials in terms of more sustainable and material aware constructions a great potential in these to create new architectural spaces. The Venice Biennale provided an opportunity to build a textile space in architectural scale. Here we could demonstrate how textiles allow structures to adapt and transform.

We could as well show, how the ability to CNC knit to shape allows a zero waste approach in building design and how the integration of all functionality, such as structural details and light, provides means to ease assembly and create new interior atmospheres. Finally we could test our developed integrated design, simulation and fabrication workflows for active bending textile structure.

You are a co-founder of the InnoChain ETN network, a shared research training environment about how the advancement in digital design tools is challenging the culture of building culture and enabling sustainable and smart design solutions for tomorrow. What is the scope of this network?
The InnoChain ETN network is a EU funded research training environment, in which six universities and 15 partners from industry examine how advances in digital design tools enable sustainable, informed and materially smart design solutions. We are especially interested how these digital processes allow for new interdisciplinary solutions, breaking the silos of current building culture. Interdisciplinary is engrained in the network, where in each subproject at one university and at least two industry partners from distinct different areas of the field collaborate, as for example architects and timber manufactures.

This setup and the sandbox character of the projects with build prototypes and demonstrators, allows to test the potentials and limits of e.g. robotic fabrication, additive manufacturing, new collaboration tools and adaptive material systems in practice. The first projects in Innochain are now finished and have already found their applications in the industry, as for instance the first open source building collaboration platform speckle.


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