Decoding Design

Flying robots to build structure in France

Posting in Architecture

Robotics inventor Raffaello D'Andrea teams up with robot-friendly architects Gramazio & Kohler to build a 20-foot-high tower that's part sculpture, part design experiment

It seems like an ideal--and adventurous--match: innovative architectural firm Gramazio & Kohler, known for using robots to assemble buildings, team up with inventor Raffaello D'Andrea, whose autonomous robots help retailers like Walgreens and Staples stock their warehouses efficiently. This is the idea behind an exhibition that opens on December 2 and is on view through February 19 at the FRAC Centre in Orleans, France, an art and design gallery.

The result promises to be an intriguing exercise in using advanced robots to construct a swirling structure. The flying robots D'Andrea will provide won't be building an actual skyscraper outdoors, but will be carrying and assembling 1,200 polystyrene foam bricks into an undulating tower that will reach nearly 20 feet high in the FRAC Centre. It could be considered either a beautiful sculpture or a large-scale architectural model.

D'Andrea, a co-founder and Chief Technical Advisor of Kiva Systems, which makes warehouse robots, also teaches at ETH Zurich (ETH is the acronym for the Swiss spelling of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, or Eidgenossiche Technische Hochschule). There, he researches and builds intricate flying robots that can perform complicated maneuvers. Check out this video to get a sense of what they can do:

Fabio Gramazio & Matthias Kohler, also professors at ETH Zurich, have regularly used robots to build walls and pavilions for around five years, including a 72-foot-long structure in New York consisting of 7,000-plus bricks.

Pairing the robotics pioneers should result in a show-stopping exhibition. But this could be more than an art and design show. Taking the complex research that the collaborators have done over the years on the precision, flexibility, and speed of robots and applying their collective knowledge to the construction of buildings could be a step toward the future of both architecture and robotics. Beyond the ideal match of the creative minds involved, this exhibition could prove to symbolize another excellent match of creative industries, too.

Related on SmartPlanet:

In Zurich, architects use robots to build

Images: copyright Gramazio & Kohler and Raffaello D'Andrea, in cooperation with ETH Zurich; used with permission

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure