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Blackbox - Uncertainty Unravelled

Chair for Building Construction - Prof. Johannes Schilling

msa - m√ľnster school of architecture

When we started our first experiments in involving users in our design processes, they were mostly about generating forms that could facilitate the necessary space. We would set up a framework allowing the generation of individualised architecture for each user. However, considering that architecture needs much more than creating lines and boxes that represent rooms or envelopes, we were challenged with the construction of these spaces. Load-bearing structure, details and technical services need to be considered as well as spatial qualities, such as light, views or aesthetical qualities. In conventional architecture this is a rather straightforward process, since the design is an observable entitiy. Creating architecture with the input of the users of the building in comparison, does not have a known design, its shape is uncertain. Further the individualised design needs customised solutions. Our research question for this project was therefore, how to construct such user-generated architecture?

The answer was clear to us. Our design is informed by the user-data. We have all necessary data for construction as machine-readable data, since we process this information computationally and generate the customised geometries in a digital model. Through Building Information Modeling (BIM) we can assign building elements to specific lines or surfaces and we can forward the information to structural engineers or manufacturers. Customising the elements for individual demands won't be an issue since digital fabrication (through i.e. CNC-mills or robot-arms) does not care if there is a standard or individualised form. Still, one needs to set up this digital chain of manufacturing and this is not so much different to the conventional way of engineering.

Envisioning a digital manufacturing chain to translate the uncertain design into a constructible building is pretty similar to traditional construction. In an iterative process, design aspects need to be evaluated for their technical feasibility. For this project, we had to make sure that the individualised apartments are not too wide or deep, otherwise the vertical accessibility of staircases and the illumination of apartments with natural light would not be ensured. The decision on how to place the staircases, was mainly a technical one.

Envisioning a digital manufacturing chain to translate the uncertain design into a constructible building is pretty similar to traditional construction.

They are used as structural cores for the apartments and lead to clear defined rules on how to detail the joints between apartment and staircase. Furthermore, building services such as sanitary equipment need to be taken care of. Bathrooms could be placed flexible inside of an apartment, but only in predefined zones. This constraints on the one hand possible design options, on the other hand it is more efficient in terms of construction and costs. Deciding differently on one of these aspects would have influenced the whole design, construction and with it the digital manufacturing chain.

This shows, that the design process is as iterative as in conventional design with the difference that one needs to make the elements and joints adaptive to individual demands. With this experience, gained in our early bachelor studies, we are convinced that it is possible to create customised architecture. Rule-based detailing in connection with digital manufacturing methods and BIM can be tools that allow it.

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