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Smartgeometry Workshop and Conference

Research Fellow Dr Muge Belek Fialho Teixeira was selected to participate in a workshop at the Smartgeometry workshop hosted by the University of Toronto earlier this year. In this post, Muge reflects on the workshop and conference.

Smartgeometry was founded in 2001 and is now a biannual event.  It starts with four days of themed workshops followed by a two day conference. Smart Geometry (SG) workshops and conferences have been influential to many disciplines including architecture, design, engineering and mathematics. Originating as a collaboration between industry, researchers and academics, SG has always been a platform where innovative ideas become a reality, informing the potential needs of the disciplines towards a better future.
The workshops are called clusters and are organised around open calls coordinated by ‘cluster champions.’ Cluster champions are collaborative teams from academia and practice who get together to prepare a proposal, or a response, to a specific theme. SG’s open call encourages researchers, academics and industry to discuss possible research questions around the proposed theme and a research avenue, via a project. By working on this project, researchers and practitioners from industry and universities have a chance to see how these technologies can be applied. Participants for each of the clusters applied for a position via open calls with cluster briefs defined by cluster champions. Participants were selected, from a competitive, international pool of applicants, based on their background, research expertise and current interests.

The conference, which took place after the workshops furthered discussions around the workshop themes informed by different perspectives from multidisciplinary invited keynote speakers. The conference was curated in a way that would feed back into the outcomes from the workshops. In that manner, it was a dynamic conference, where the keynote speakers build on the work produced by the clusters and open up new agendas for future speculations. The conference was followed by Q&A sessions that allowed the workshop participants to engage with the keynote speakers openly. These exchanges also provided opportunities for future collaborations.
The University of Toronto hosted Smatgeometry under the theme “Machine Minds”, which revolved around machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence). Current discussions on machine learning and AI, generally consist of depressing scenarios of humans coming to an end or humans losing their jobs. Websites like “Will robots take my job?” are opening up discussions about how we should give away our passions for our professions. As a trending topic for many disciplines, SG focused on how machine learning and AI can be utilised for design and what could be some other positive and constructive ways of approaching this topic. The clusters explored the applicable areas of Machine Learning and AI, whereas the keynote speakers of the conference tried to create an understanding of what is machine learning and AI and its impact on our society, as well as the methods they use them in their practice.
The clusters at SG were:
–          Smart materials (Fibrous timber joints, Materials as probes)
–          Smart geometries (AI strategies for space frame design, Mind ex-machine)
–          Smart fabrication methodologies (Soft Office)
–          Smart and innovative ways of perceiving the environment (Behavioural Enviro[NN]ments, Data Mining the City, Fresh Eyes, Inside the Black Box, Sound and Signal)
All of them used cutting-edge technologies and customized software to define geometries. These technologies included interactive tables, VR headsets, industrial robots, mobile robots, CNC routers, sensors, microphones, and many more. One of the most dominant software platforms used by clusters was Rhino with the Grasshopper plug in, as a unifying platform, but there was also other software such as Unity, Processing, Arduino, Python, or custom build software for the clusters. More information on each of the clusters can be found here.
Highlights from conference discussions were;
–          what is AI and machine learning,
–          how AI and machine learning will affect the future of societies and how we can get prepared,
–          collecting, interpreting and managing data,
–          natural intelligence versus digital intelligence,
–          machine learning versus human learning,
–          robotics and advanced manufacturing,
–          interactive installations,
–          complex geometries.
The schedule and the keynote speakers can be found here.
As part of the SG2018 there was also a trip to see the new workplace of Autodesk Toronto. Autodesk has been a close collaborator of SG as a sponsor and providing know-how, keynote speakers, cluster champions and event participants. The new Autodesk workplace has been designed using generative algorithms and has a research centre for exploring new technologies. One of the clusters (Mind ex Machina) took place in this research centre, using two UR10 collaborative robotic arms with custom build open source software for SG18. It seems Autodesk has started to take a pioneering role in research by collaborating with research institutions, researchers and companies through these research centres. With artist-in-residency programs, they are opening up their facilities globally to makers and curious minds. A list of Autodesk research centres can be found here.
Looking forward to the future, next Smartgeometry will take place at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, 2020 with another challenging theme!



Advances in Design Robotics for Architectural Fabrication

Advances in automation and robotics are changing the way we work, make, and create. In the discipline of architecture, these advances are providing exciting opportunities for designers to experiment with building forms. This article provides a brief survey of emerging and experimental applications of robotics in architectural fabrication.   
Zaha Hadid Architects, based in London, have used exhibitions as a platform to experiment with digital fabrication. There are two examples of Hadid’s practice engaging with robotics for architectural fabrication. These are, Arrum, which was an installation for the Venice Biennale in 2012. The freestanding form was made from 488 unique interlocking metal panels. These panels were robotically folded along pre-scored lines to ensure the correct curve in the folds and then the form was assembled by hand. Robotically folded metal could provide a faster alternative to casting or incremental sheet forming. You can view how the sheets of metal were folded by two robotic arms in this video here:
[youtube-video id=”tQfmzCIe7jU”][/youtube-video]
Another project by Zaha Hadid Architects, called Thallus was exhibited at the Salon Del Mobile in 2017. The installation used a combination of fabrication techniques. A polystyrene form was first cut with hot wire and was then used as a base onto which the curving lattice work was 3D printed. A 3D printer head was attached to a robotic arm and the form was printed in a thermoplastic material using a production method called Fused Filament Fabrication (often referred to as FDM). There were some issues with the final structure, which needed some additional reinforcement to stay together because the printed lines delaminated. You can see the entire production process for this installation in this video here: 
[youtube-video id=”FnZiszi7aS4″][/youtube-video]
An innovative project that is advancing 3D printing with metal is the MX3D Bridge. This project started in 2015 and is due for completion in 2018. It involves 3D printing a bridge from an incremental building up of welded stainless steel. The bridge will be printed as one single piece. The robots will move out over the structure as it is built. Originally intended to be built on-site, it is instead being fabricated it in a workshop.
[youtube-video id=”v2moJF8kqIg”][/youtube-video]
Another project that exhibits an innovative application of 3D printing is the Daedalus Pavilion by AiBuild (2016). This project was a 3D printed pavilion for a technology conference. The scale of printing for this project is impressive as it shows how robotic arm printing can be used to produce much larger structures than what can be achieved with desktop 3D printing.
[youtube-video id=”rAbB_AZvCT4″][/youtube-video]
The last example of 3D printing presented in this article is Phantom Geometry by Kyle & Liz Von Hasseln from SciArc in the USA completed in 2011. This is a highly experimental work exploring robotic 3D printing with the ‘DLP’ method. This is where digital light is used to cure a UV sensitive resin. It’s an alternative to fused deposition modelling (FDM), which is more commonly used with robotic 3D printing.
[video-embed id=”49888105″][/video-embed]
Another experimental digital fabrication method to come out of SciArc is sPhysical by Besler, Kosgoron, Tuksam, & Vikar, completed in 2011. This is a highly experimental work that uses robot-controlled heat guns to control the deformation of plastic shapes.
[video-embed id=”40753916″][/video-embed]
The next two examples show how robots can be used to ‘weave’ structures. The first is called Elytra Filament Pavilion exhibited at the Victor and Albert Museum by Achim Menges from the University of Stuttgart created in 2016. This is the latest in a series of works from Achim Menges to explore a fabrication technique where carbon fibre strands are woven over a frame by a pair of robots. Once the carbon fibre sets, the frames are removed and the pieces are light enough to be lifted by a single person. The pieces are then assembled on-site.
[video-embed id=”168351499″][/video-embed]
The second example of robotic welding involves the use of natural materials. This project, titled Robotic Softness, also emerged from the University of Stuttgart by Giulio Brugnaro and was completed as a Masters Thesis Project in 2015. The project explored the ability of a robot to produce woven structures from cane. It is notable because it does not rely on a pre-programmed script, but instead used a ‘behavioural approach’ which used a vision scanning system to detect where the cane material was and adjust its movements accordingly.
[video-embed id=”143536097″][/video-embed]
This next project also used natural materials. Titled, Wood Chip Barn, it was completed in 2016 by students at the Architectural Association. The students used tree forks from a local forest to make beams. These were assembled into the frame for a large structure. The trees were scanned and then milled into by a robot so that they would fit together.
[video-embed id=”157159413″][/video-embed]
The last two projects featured in this article hail from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, better known as ETH, in Zurich. One is the Smart Dynamic Concrete Casting, which is a novel process for forming load bearing concrete columns. A robotic forming head moves with the concrete and shapes it to the desired profile as the concrete is setting. A steel frame is fabricated first for the concrete to be formed over.  
[youtube-video id=”BI2LOj4oxcw”][/youtube-video]
And lastly, from ETH is the project titled, Stratifications, by Gramazio and Kohler. This is a system that explores stacking as a fabrication technique. The interesting aspect to this project is that the robot responds to variations in the structure as it goes. It uses a scanning device to get feedback on the structure and adapt to it.
[video-embed id=”69255275″][/video-embed]
This is just a brief survey of advanced manufacturing technologies that have the potential to change the way designers and architects work. Do you know of any other examples that you think we should profile on this website? Or are you developing your own technologies, or working with digital fabrication and would like us to profile your work? Please get in touch via email