Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Architectural 3D Printing is Robotic Construction

For the last post before the Christmas I wished to focus on an AECMag article entitled “Rise of the Robots”. Highlights from the lengthy piece include insights about drones, modular building techniques and architectural 3D printing.

Early into my architectural 3D printing research I made the connection between architectural 3D printing and drones: One - that the technologies tended to blur together on a continuum and two - the future will look nothing like we expected. The article highlights a number of different drone designs for construction applications and they don’t look anything like the drones from Star Wars who built the Death Star. Notably the brick laying robot Hadrian from Australia would make an excellent Minecraft robot with some slight modifications changing bricks to cubes.

I was happy to see UC Berkeley, previously mentioned on the blog, acknowledged for its continued research into materials and printing methods. Each MIT and the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia continue to advance swarm robotics (which directly relates to the use of multiple drones on a project). And in 2015 Dutch company MX3D, also previously mentioned on the blog, introduced an ambitious project to 3D print a 12 foot bridge using a wire welding robotic arm (see above). Once finished, I would not hesitate to cross over it. London-based D-Shape is also in there, leaders in 3D printing cementitious material who ignored my emails to purchase samples last summer.

I think the article does a good job outlining the history of architectural 3D printing and some of the obstacles facing early adoption but strains credibility when suggesting only signature firms are interested in technological approaches or complex forms when I think the exact opposite bares out in reality; that all AEC firms, almost without exception, want to be seen as technologically sophisticated. I was also less than enthused with the focus on 3D printing habitats on Mars and the Moon. The topic is too narrow with too many constraints specific to those alien locations to be helpful building on Earth. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Modern Building Systems Effect on Modern Building Design

The development of modern building systems like HVAC and potable water had a major impact on the character of architectural design. Never before had the architect been asked to design sophisticated ventilation networks or heavy structural countermeasures. Increasingly complex public health and building safety were the pressures driving these changes and each was absent from the minds of Greco-Roman and Renaissance architects et al.

The need for interdisciplinary collaboration nor articles calling for its implementation are anything new. The linked article makes a strong point near the end of the piece arguing BIM establishes just such functionality but first the bad: There is little effort on the part of the author to analyze current obstacles to collaboration. In my experience designers, consultants, and contractors on a project - each fundamentally necessary to its completion - can be downright hostile to each other. Certainly there is enough blame to go around for this situation, nor can this behavior be assumed to be universal but in the meantime, it must be said, the article sheds little light on why collaboration fails in AEC projects.

Where I do express agreement is that - at least technologically – as building information modelling has matured collaboration has improved. This has allowed different disciplines to offer and receive accurate information earlier in the building design process leading to fundamentally more valuable buildings.  Quoted in the article, Andrea Scotti, director of Burohappold Engineering in Abu Dhabi, explains BIM's role in collaboration thusly: “In terms of difficult projects to coordinate on, I would say that a few years ago this would have been technical in nature, related to complex structures or geometry. Nowadays, technology is there to help reduce these complexities.” 

Monday, December 07, 2015

Improving High Rise Building Structural Design

We don’t often get the opportunity to cover innovations in the structural design of high rise buildings because improvements are so often incremental. The development discussed below is perhaps most applicable to locations with high seismic loads, a topic put on my radar after my experiences living overseas.

Kinetica, a University of Toronto research spin-off, is attempting to bring a new product to market for damping seismic and wind loads in high rise structures. I’m not sure how much market demand exists for such an innovation as their work seems to have been heavily subsidized. Be that as it may, their technology indisputably offers benefits for the construction of concrete high rise buildings.

Comparing first steel structures; it’s a rather trivial process to place decoupling devices in either braces or walls because they’re exposed. However, with cost structures changing, more and more projects are utilizing concrete in high rise construction. The long thick walls which characterize concrete high rise construction lack areas to integrate high performance damping systems in. This leads to the use of heavy counterweights high above to dampen swaying. 

The damper braces introduced by the company are made of large sheets of a rubber-like material — known as a viscoelastic polymer — sandwiched between steel plates. (Seen in yellow in the above picture during the testing phasing.) They work by absorbing vibrational energy and transforming it into heat energy, thereby reducing the stresses transferred into adjacent structural elements. The company’s founders Michael Montgomery and Constantin Christopoulos’ key insight was “to realize that there was a place to put viscoelastic dampers into a concrete building after all: the coupling beams. These smaller, horizontal concrete beams are used on each floor to connect the two giant walls together and increase the rigidity of the building. Under high winds and earthquakes, these smaller coupling beams become heavily stressed, so replacing them with something that can absorb energy — like a viscoelastic damper — seemed like an ideal solution.”