An Architecture of Parts

A selection of Year 5 student work 2016/17


Student work in the Bartlett Book 2017

Ivo Tedbury, Year 5, 'semblr'

semblr is a construction platform to enable the automated production of dwellings and other structures. It uses discrete timber bricks and distributed robots which move relative to the structures which they assemble. Technology and politics are entwined together, as argued in the accompanying thesis document. In summary: The use of robots to construct buildings and other structures should lead to shared prosperity in society, only if the required technology is developed through the Creative Commons. This will require an open-source syntax, common to both robotic systems and to the design of the assembled product: Robot-Oriented Building Information Modelling (RobOBIM).

The political basis comes from the Accelerationist movement (for example, the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams), which argues that the prevailing system of capitalism, or certain techno-social processes that have historically characterised it, should be expanded, repurposed, or accelerated to generate radical social change.[1]

Therefore, while the parts are buildable in a small-scale workshop, they reach full potential in large-scale production, where the coordinated platform has influence over the whole process - from coordinated forestry to automous delivery. Equally, while the parts can be assembled into buildings by hand, they are specifically designed for manipulation by distributed robots. Thus the platform is compatible with the technologies and politics of both the present and the desired future, facilitating the radical transition from one to the other.

The system’s technical foundation is a single syntax for cross-discipline coordination in the form of connection point OOP ‘objects’ on the edges of the bricks, integrated systems, and the robot end effectors. This shared DNA between brick and robot allows fluid digital and physical interactions, and radically expands the remit of BIM modelling to include robotic assembly and changes to the building over time. An example scenario shows the platform as tool to house people made redundant from job automation. Leaving behind the capital-based static housing of labour- culture, they begin their new post-work lives in semblr dwellings automatically assembled at a location of their choosing. The physical and temporal flexibilty of the system, and the fact that it operates at near-zero financial and environmental cost, means both quasi-nomadic and quasi-luxury living is possible. This technology-enabled synthetic architectural freedom is the key to the ‘homo ludens’ society which many have long fantasised about: ‘for playing, for adventure, for mobility, for the free creation of his own life’.[2] 

[1] Srnicek, N. & Williams, A. (2015). Inventing the Future. 2nd ed. London: Verso.

[2] ConstantNieuwenhuys (1965). New Babylon: Outline of a Culture. The Hague: HaagsGemeentemuseum

Tzoulia Baltsavia, Year 5, 'I-Architecture'

Over the last few decades, the gap between those who produce and use housing has massively increased. Cities like London are characterised by an oligopoly of big developers offering one-size-fits-all social housing and an increasing lack of affordability with only 20% of the population being financially able to build a house. Contemporary modes of production are no longer rational. As a reaction to this, a very different kind of housing industry has emerged, an open source paradigm which is focused on growing the housing supply for the ‘long tail’ of individuals seeking to self- build their own housing.

This is possible more than ever today due to Fourth Industrial Revolution referenced by Jeremy Rifkin. With the expansion of the Internet of Things and the development of digital technologies accessible to all, users are empowered to become prosumers with almost zero marginal production cost. A new era has arrived that came to replace the existing malfunctioning capitalistic model with a more collective and democratic paradigm. Maker movements and open source culture enabled the decentralisation of production, which can now occur in local technology hubs or private garages.

The project proposes an open source system based on a kit of parts. An architecture composed of digital materials, with limited parts and connections allows for rapid and efficient deployment of an open-ended housing product. The discreteness of the product allows for great levels of scalability, which is what current open source architectural prototypes lack, while it enables building assembly without the necessary need of a professional. The role of the architect shifts from that of a designer of a predefined product to that of a framework, within which users can directly intervene and endlessely customise according to their personal needs.

I-Architecture focuses on redefining the use of a traditional construction component, the I-beam, and studies the potential of its spatialisation in aim to design social housing prototypes. In an attempt to respond to a more exible and collective way of future living, the I-part is used to design apartment typologies organised in different levels serving a variety of activities responding to the variety of domestic activities today. The prototypical building product is a high-rise structure, in view of the upcoming rise of urbanisation within the next years, and is situated in Avila, Spain, one of the cities more severely hit by the 2008 recession. 

Oscar Walheim, Year 5, 'Avila Automatic'

This project establishes a new method for construction that lowers the threshold of entry into the creation of housing whilst fostering new forms of interaction within society. Deploying vacuum forming as a simple, intuitive and fundamental process, Avila Automatic explores the potential of initially generic discrete digital form-work in the generation of pre-cast architectural elements. The recombinatory techniques facilitated by the process produce an organic and mitotic development and a new kind of construc on ecology. Applying this discrete, digital design methodology to multiple strands of the housing market investigates the relationship between the mode of production and the typology and topology of the resultant architecture. 

The2008 financial crash left a desolate landscape of infrastructure on the outskirts of many towns across Europe, and particularly in Spain. Roads, lamp-posts, electricity and drainage serve rows of undeveloped plots with no residents. This project charts the march of progress of the new construction ecology within this landscape, from single-occupancy micro homes reliant on existing infrastructure, through unfettered low-rise townscape sprawl, into organised urban planning facilitated by new community structures.

The new relationships that this fosters shifts the project away from the neo-liberal capitalism pervasive today and pulls housing into an alternative model that stands alongside the conventional mass housing market.

Ultimately, Avila Automatic promotes an alternative modern life unimpeded by the commodification of housing and the pressures of restrictive mortgages. It is a life augmented by new forms of inhabitation, increased collectively-owned automation and new forms of productive communities.  

Gintare Stonkute, Year 5, 'Print My Village'

Despite technological advances and unlike in other major industries, housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable across the west due to increasing financial costs and migration to cities. The financial crisis of 2008 further augmented this issue, increasing youth unemployment and refusing the access to mortgages furthermore changing tastes and needs means requirements from housing are higher and more detailed than ever before.

We also see the world entering into a new industrial revolution, where increasingly automated technologies minimise labour demand a long-term 'post-capitalist' future suggests higher unemployment as normality through reduced workload and higher reliance on automation. It is therefore a major opportunity to create a housing system of parts which take advantage of those developments to tackle issues of urgent affordable homes, taking into account desires of flexibility and customisation, empowering generations by involving them in the work. The project argues that we are on the verge of a major sociological shift, which will enable us considering completely new affordable, flexible and individualised pre-fab buildings through the use of break-through technologies of 3D printing and robotic delivery in the post-capitalist era. 

These innovations will allow increased efficiencies in speed and use of materials. More important, the project aims to rethink how we can design and construct homes using the relationship between human and technology as a vehicle. It empowers residents with the ability to solve housing issues themselves. They can drive and control the development by contributing to production and assembly of parts, whilst relying on experts through digital systems when introduced.