University of Stuttgart researchers have created the first permanent building to be designed and built using robotics.
The team employed a robotic arm and custom software to build the 250-square-meter geodesic structure—a curvy shell composed of self-bracing panels—faster and with greater precision than could be accomplished with human hands alone. And they did so while minimizing the project’s environmental impact.
The result is a sinuous building called Landesgartenschau, or LaGa, Exhibition Hall in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. The hall is made out of 243 geometrically unique plates of 50-millimeter-thick beech plywood designed and cut using robotics. Humans then assembled the plates like puzzle pieces, fitting together 7,356 finger joints so that the resulting structure could stand without supports. “If you didn’t have the design, engineering and fabrication technology we assembled, you simply wouldn’t be able to build anything like this,” says LaGa team leader Achim Menges. “Proportionally, the timber shell is much thinner than an eggshell,” Menges notes.
The team wrote software, which generated the geometry of the hall and issued real-time alerts if it detected elements or processes that would make construction impossible. The Stuttgart tools worked within Grasshopper. A core project principle that added to its complexity was that any three plates needed to meet at a point, creating a Y juncture. Any deviation from this requirement would create a hinge joint. And with no supports for the shell, that hinge would fold, bringing down the shell.
Actual work on LaGa Hall began away from the construction site in January 2014. A Hundegger computer-aided manufacturing panel-cutter rough-cut each beech plate. Other computer-aided manufacturing tools cut insulation, waterproofing material and cladding.
The Dutch design studio LUST has created a new interactive installation for the exhibition ‘Type/Dynamics’ at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. ‘Type/Dynamics’ interacts with and comments on the work of graphic designer Jurriaan Schrofer (1926–1990) in an effort to revitalize recent design history. The installation visualizes information that continuously surrounds us and is always accessible. By searching for real-time locations currently in the news, like “Ground Zero”, “Reichstag”, or “Tiananmen square”, the installation can locate the panorama images from Google Streetview, abstract them into grids and fill the grids with new information.
As a visitor to the space, you are literally ‘transported’ to that location and surrounded by all the news associated with that specific location. Instead of a photographic representation, the place is represented purely typographically with a host of new items currently being talked about at that location. Nothing in the gallery space stands still; all information continuously moves.
In the heart of Johannesburg, there is probably no building more notorious than Ponte City. The cylindrical tower with a hollow core was built in the 1970s as luxury apartments only for whites. In the ensuing decades, as whites decamped to the suburbs, Ponte became a symbol of urban decay, overrun by drug dealers and gangs and dubbed “suicide central” because of the number of people who chose to end their lives by hurling themselves off the tower.
Today, Ponte is undergoing a renaissance. The building has been renovated over the years and middle class families and young professionals have moved in. A few whites have too, mostly occupying the upper floors. In a nod to its location in what is still one of the most dangerous parts of town, the new Ponte has been turned into something of a fortress. Security is extremely tight and there are severe restrictions on visitors.
Vocativ recently went inside the infamous tower, which is the tallest residential building in Africa.
Concrete can wear many faces. In the wrong hands it goes cold and clinical, the stuff of a thousand Brutalist eyesores. But when made with skill, it becomes something else entirely, imbued with a tactile allure that’s well suited for residential projects. This allure is largely responsible for the quiet, contemplative power of Phoenix House. In a seaside town some 25 miles north of San Diego, architect Sebastian Mariscal formed a structure of richly textured concrete that employs adroit massing, a carefully considered floor plan, and a diverse collection of outdoor spaces in a design that eschews grandiosity for intimacy.
Arthur Ganson’s Kinetic Sculptures at MIT Museum
In our TRANSIENT issue - we interviewed Rem Koolhaas, the incredible architect curating this years Architecture Biennale in Venice. He gives us a behind the scenes preview of what to expect.
This Tower Pulls Drinking Water Out of Thin Air
Designer Arturo Vittori says his invention can provide remote villages with more than 25 gallons of clean drinking water per day.
In some parts of Ethiopia, finding potable water is a six-hour journey.
People in the region spend 40 billion hours a year trying to find and collect water, says a group called the Water Project. And even when they find it, the water is often not safe, collected from ponds or lakes teeming with infectious bacteria, contaminated with animal waste or other harmful substances.
The water scarcity issue—which affects nearly 1 billion people in Africa alone—has drawn the attention of big-name philanthropists like actor and Water.org co-founder Matt Damon and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who, through their respective nonprofits, have poured millions of dollars into research and solutions, coming up with things like a system that converts toilet water to drinking water and a “Re-invent the Toilet Challenge,” among others.
Critics, however, have their doubts about integrating such complex technologies in remote villages that don’t even have access to a local repairman. Costs and maintenance could render many of these ideas impractical.
“If the many failed development projects of the past 60 years have taught us anything,” wrote one critic, Toilets for People founder Jason Kasshe, in a New York Times editorial, “it’s that complicated, imported solutions do not work.”
Other low-tech inventions, like this life straw, aren’t as complicated, but still rely on users to find a water source.
It was this dilemma—supplying drinking water in a way that’s both practical and convenient—that served as the impetus for a new product called Warka Water, an inexpensive, easily-assembled structure that extracts gallons of fresh water from the air.
The invention from Arturo Vittori, an industrial designer, and his colleague Andreas Vogler doesn’t involve complicated gadgetry or feats of engineering, but instead relies on basic elements like shape and material and the ways in which they work together.
At first glance, the 30-foot-tall, vase-shaped towers, named after a fig tree native to Ethiopia, have the look and feel of a showy art installation. But every detail, from carefully-placed curves to unique materials, has a functional purpose.
The rigid outer housing of each tower is comprised of lightweight and elastic juncus stalks, woven in a pattern that offers stability in the face of strong wind gusts while still allowing air to flow through. A mesh net made of nylon or polypropylene, which calls to mind a large Chinese lantern, hangs inside, collecting droplets of dew that form along the surface. As cold air condenses, the droplets roll down into a container at the bottom of the tower. The water in the container then passes through a tube that functions as a faucet, carrying the water to those waiting on the ground.
Using mesh to facilitate clean drinking water isn’t an entirely new concept. A few years back, an MIT student designed a fog-harvesting device with the material. But Vittori’s invention yields more water, at a lower cost, than some other concepts that came before it.
“[In Ethiopia], public infrastructures do not exist and building [something like] a well is not easy,” Vittori says of the country. “To find water, you need to drill in the ground very deep, often as much as 1,600 feet. So it’s technically difficult and expensive. Moreover, pumps need electricity to run as well as access to spare parts in case the pump breaks down.”
So how would Warka Water’s low-tech design hold up in remote sub-Saharan villages? Internal field tests have shown that one Warka Water tower can supply more than 25 gallons of water throughout the course of a day, Vittori claims. He says because the most important factor in collecting condensation is the difference in temperature between nightfall and daybreak, the towers are proving successful even in the desert, where temperatures, in that time, can differ as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The structures, made from biodegradable materials, are easy to clean and can be erected without mechanical tools in less than a week. Plus, he says, “once locals have the necessary know-how, they will be able to teach other villages and communities to build the Warka.”
In all, it costs about $500 to set up a tower—less than a quarter of the cost of something like the Gates toilet, which costs about $2,200 to install and more to maintain. If the tower is mass produced, the price would be even lower, Vittori says. His team hopes to install two Warka Towers in Ethiopia by next year and is currently searching for investors who may be interested in scaling the water harvesting technology across the region.
“It’s not just illnesses that we’re trying to address. Many Ethiopian children from rural villages spend several hours every day to fetch water, time they could invest for more productive activities and education,” he says. “If we can give people something that lets them be more independent, they can free themselves from this cycle.”