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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Robo-Builder

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Inhabitat has an interesting piece on this 3 dimensional contour crafting machine, developed by Behrokh Khoshnevis at USC. It's basically a CNC machine similar to those used in milling processes, only this one extrudes material.



Apparently they plan to build a house soon with this method.

This is inspiring to see, but like most developing ideas much remains to be worked out before the final product is market ready; if ever.
I see a number of positives and negatives to comment on, some of which have been already mentioned in the reader comment section, some not.

Positives:

- Forming concrete in this way will certainly save tons of formwork material- a costly, time consuming, and environmentally wasteful practice.

- Building with concrete is durable, which may begin a trend away from “disposable” architecture that is so common.

- Concrete provides great thermal mass, which if used well, provides excellent passive climate benefits.

- Potentially very quick way to build.

- Decrease costs of building with labor savings.

- Material and method makes complex forms easy to create.

- For openings, the machine can be programmed to leave gaps in the walls, and then a steel angle lintel could be laid in place by workers as the machine returns across the top of the opening to form the wall above.

Negatives:

- Concrete placed by this machine is not reinforced, which excludes it from use just about anywhere the States. Non-reinforced masonry is common in Australia and non-seismic zones, so there is likely still an application internationally.

- Concrete as a material has a relatively high embodied energy cost (mining, processing, transportation) - unless the buildings built of solid concrete remain for a very long time, it’s eco cost is likely higher than if built with a renewable resource.

- Weight of structure may not be suitable for some locations with poor bearing capacities.

- Insulation required for most climates means that framing and wall linings are still necessary.

- Solid walls do not accommodate concealed services; either live with exposed pipes and conduit or see note above.

- Setting up a solid and accurate framework to support the machine on site so that it can build accurately will be difficult and will likely require large clearances beyond the building perimeter, and likely foundations of its own. Must be a pretty beefy framework to support not just the machinery, but the heavy wet material being placed, and must be able to handle the rapid changes in direction that the machine makes without distortion.

- Same concerns stated by others about material in lower courses compressing from weight of courses above, or an incorrect "slump" mix wreaking havoc.

- Same concerns about keeping the machine working properly during use, and the potentially huge cost of having it break when a couple dozen full concrete trucks are standing by.

- An interruption in the flow of material causes a problem.

- Concrete is more expensive (initially) than most alternative building materials. Though this may be more than offset substantially by elimination of the formwork cost and labor, putting this in the plus column.

- Arranging furniture in a curved room is difficult. Ok I’m just kidding.

Well that’s what comes to mind right off.
Regardless, I love to see people pushing the boundaries of building technology.

And I knew all along that Play-Doh was more than just a toy.

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