At the Empa and Eawag NEST building in Dübendorf, eight ETH Zurich professors as part of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication are collaborating with business partners to build the three-storey DFAB HOUSE. It is the first building in the world to be designed, planned and built using predominantly digital processes.

Robots that build walls and 3D printers that print entire formworks for ceiling slabs – digital fabrication in architecture has developed rapidly in recent years. As part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication, architects, robotics specialists, material scientists, structural engineers and sustainability experts from ETH Zurich have teamed up with business partners to put several new digital building technologies from the laboratory into practice. Construction is taking place at NEST, the modular research and innovation building that Empa and Eawag built on their campus in Dübendorf to test new building and energy technologies under real conditions. NEST offers a central support structure with three open platforms, where individual construction projects – known as innovation units – can be installed. Construction recently began on the DFAB HOUSE.

Digitally Designed, Planned and Built
The DFAB HOUSE is distinctive in that it was not only digitally designed and planned, but is also built using predominantly digital processes. With this pilot project, the ETH professors want to examine how digital technology can make construction more sustainable and efficient, and increase the design potential. The individual components were digitally coordinated based on the design and are manufactured directly from this data. The conventional planning phase is no longer needed. As of summer 2018, the three-storey building, with a floor space of 200 m2, will serve as a residential and working space for Empa and Eawag guest researchers and partners of NEST.

Four New Building Methods Put to the Test
At the DFAB HOUSE, four construction methods are for the first time being transferred from research to architectural applications. Construction work began with the Mesh Mould technology, which received the Swiss Technology Award at the end of 2016. The result will be a double-curved load-bearing concrete wall that will shape the architecture of the open-plan living and working area on the ground floor. A “Smart Slab” will then be installed – a statistically optimised and functionally integrated ceiling slab, for which the researchers used a large-format 3D sand printer to manufacture the formwork.

Smart Dynamic Casting technology is being used for the façade on the ground floor: the automated robotic slip-forming process can produce tailor-made concrete façade posts. The two upper floors, with individual rooms, are being prefabricated at ETH Zurich’s Robotic Fabrication Laboratory using spatial timber assemblies; cooperating robots will assemble the timber construction elements.

More Information in ETH Zurich Press Release and on Project Website
Detailed information about the building process, quotes as well as image and video material can be found in the extended press release by ETH Zurich. In addition, a project website for the DFAB HOUSE is currently in development and will soon be available at the following link: www.dfabhouse.ch. Until then, Empa’s website offers information about the project: https://www.empa.ch/web/nest/digital-fabrication

NCCR Investigators Involved with the DFAB HOUSE:
Prof. Matthias Kohler, Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication
Prof. Fabio Gramazio, Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication
Prof. Benjamin Dillenburger, Chair for Digital Building Technologies
Prof. Joseph Schwartz, Chair of Structural Design
Prof. Robert Flatt, Institute for Building Materials
Prof. Walter Kaufmann, Institute of Structural Engineering
Prof. Guillaume Habert, Institute of Construction & Infrastructure Management
Prof. Jonas Buchli, Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems

Image credits: NCCR Digital Fabrication, 2017
Image caption: The In situ Fabricator building the Mesh Mould on Empa NEST. The Mesh Mould process unifies the reinforcement and formwork production into a single and robotically controlled on-site fabrication system.