Digitalised construction processes
Compared to other sectors, the construction industry is one of the less digitalised branches of the economy. But this is slowly changing. The latest developments in IT and building information modelling (BIM) in particular are transforming planning.
It’s already standard for international teams of planners to work collaboratively and simultaneously on the same project data. This makes it much easier to work and exchange ideas, and it contributes to improved quality in the planning, implementation, use and demolition or conversion of buildings.
But despite the rapid pace of digitalisation, the fundamental building blocks of architecture and construction practice have changed only a little in recent years. Other industries and sectors have evolved considerably faster together with the technology. “Digital architecture” is rarely mentioned in public debates even though many architects are already working with digital tools and automated technologies.
One project that has caused a buzz recently is the temporary office by the design and technology consultancy Automated Architecture (AUAR). The model office was built using robotically fabricated, reconfigurable timber building blocks.
A groundbreaking project – the temporary office
When it was looking for a new office space, AUAR designed and built a temporary installation in the Building Centre in London, which serves as living, office and co-working space. The installation is based on ALIS (Automated Living System), AUAR’s automated construction system for housing.
ALIS uses robotically prefabricated plywood building blocks with reversible connections that allow the system to be reconfigured quickly and adapted over time. The installation is an active laboratory that allows AUAR to test ALIS for a variety of applications as well as doubling as a live prototype for ongoing projects.
The ALIS building blocks form every element of the office, from personal workspaces to a large meeting table, load-bearing walls, floors slabs and a cushioned lounge corner. The space is conceived as a block or a volumetric section of a building that can accommodate living space and workspaces as well as public functions. It consists entirely of a repeating, pixel-like building block.
The lightweight building blocks can be quickly assembled without any need for specialist tools, cranes or a workforce with extensive training. The blocks themselves were also employed as scaffolding and supports during the assembly of the home office. The entire installation fits in a single Luton van, allowing it to be transported quickly and easily to a new site when AUAR’s residency in the Building Centre comes to an end.
Innovative office solutions promote flexible working
As many as ten people can work or relax in the space simultaneously while visitors can join in and reserve a workspace with the aid of an online application. Potential users can spin around a 3D model and select a timber building block to reserve it for a given time frame.
A number of blocks are set aside for AUAR employees, who use them as fixed workspaces. The workspaces are arranged around a central lounge corner so that each one forms a private, semi-enclosed set-up where users can concentrate on their work without the visitors to the installation being a distraction.
In the next stage, the building blocks will be reassembled and configured once more to create AUAR’s next home. This time the consultancy will be setting up at a site in Hackney Wick, where it has funding from the London Borough of Hackney.
In this setting, the project will take on a dual role as office space and community accelerator, playing host to a series of local community events involving organisations such as local government agencies, universities, arts and performance organisations, and groups working in the fields of local youth leadership development, ageing and the future of housing.
A collaboration with the success factor
The ALIS building blocks were originally developed as an automated construction system for housing by a team of postgraduate students working in the Design Computation Lab, AUAR’s research arm within University College London. At the heart of the system is a single, repeating building block, which can be cut by a CNC machine and assembled by two industrial robots.
Once prefabricated, the building blocks can be assembled into a large number of different housing typologies, from single-family homes and backyard extensions to complete multi-storey housing units. All the assemblies can be reconfigured and adapted over time.
AUAR’s aim with ALIS is to promote alternative models for automation platforms for housing that foster local construction, community interaction and adaptation over time. A groundbreaking project for the construction industry on many different levels.