The Unseen Ornament | Robotic Fabrication Strategies for Architecture

“ Ornament is lost work force and therefore lost health...Today it also means lost material und both means lost capital...The modern human, the human with modern nerves, does not need the ornament, he misprizes it.” - Adolf Loos: Ornment and Crime, 1908

With the emergence of the modern age the ornament nearly completely disappeared from architecture. Following the quote of Luis Sullivan:“form follows function” yielded the tradition of the complex and playful ornament as seen during the “Jugendstil” and the Expressionism to a novel functional “Neuen Sachlichkeit” which was mainly represented by the newly founded Bauhaus. Next to the programatic reasons, this turning away from the ornament was often out of purely rationalistic and economic reasons. The creation of ornament that was neither functionally nor structurally valid was from there on banned from architecture.

Due to the emergence of computation in architecture, especially in the field of digital modeling and digital fabrication the ornament currently undergoes a renaissance. The implementation of a digital process chain enables not only for the creation of complex geometries, but also for a controlled manufacturing process in accordance with economical production costs.Next to the already well discovered and established digital fabrication technologies, such as 3d printing and CNC-milling, recently robotics expands this spectrum. During the design class, therefore the emerging potentials of robotics were experimentally investigated by the students. Within the process the robots were in an additive and a subtractive manner utilized to inscribe a digitally generated pattern into a fluid medium under the usage of a previously designed analog endeffectors. As a support the whole pallet of digitally available tools (image processing, modeling and parametric tools) were utilized to create data sets which were than converted into the needed robot tool path by the utilization HAL a Rhino Grasshopper plugin for robot control.

The design class was there splitted into multiple working packages that had to be simultaneously processed.

Formwork Inlay

The design of a reusable formwork, that allowed to join the resulting tiles in an intelligent manner, to create a continuous look of the ornament tough out the individual panels. This formwork should have the dimensions of approximately 500mm x 500mm x 300x mm and was constructable out of special casting plates. As a further extension of the task an inlay had to be designed that would fit the dimensions of the formwork and could therefore be placed inside. This inlays were due to the prohibition of a flat backside of the tiles and therefore should also be incorporated into the design process. This inlays could be created directly by using the robot which would inscribe the pattern into a stable medium such as moulding sand or clay or that could be fabricated using CNC-milling process. In this process it also had to be considered that the resulting tiling system had to be seamless.

Material Science

Next to the design of the formwork for the tiling system, a suitable fluid materiel had to be found with chartists material values (strength and form stability), which enabled for the creation of the individual tiles. In analog studies the students were investigating to inscribe patterns into a fluid medium, to check for their return flow and viscosity.

Ornament Design

The ornament was than created by using the contemporary available pallet of digital design tools. Previously a study of historic ornament had to be conducted to contextualize the design within a certain era. For the process of creating the pattern the formwork, inlay and the design of the analog endeffector had to be considered. The resulting design had to be realizable with the utilization of the robot in combination with the analog endeffector and the predeclared toolpath.

Analog Endeffector

An endeffector had to be designed that was suitable to inscribe the ornament into the fluid medium.The tool had to be created under the utilization of 3D-printing or a laser-cutting process and under accordance of an iterative process of testing and redesigning.

HAL-workshop with Thibault Schwartz and Tristan Gobin

Directed by Daniel Büning