On 22 September 2016, the Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA) officially inaugurated its new institute building, the Arch_Tec_Lab at the Hönggerberg Campus of ETH Zurich. This innovative building demonstrates how collaborative planning processes and digital technologies can contribute to new architectural expressions as well as resource-efficient and spatially compact construction. As one of the inhabitants of the Arch_Tec_Lab, the NCCR Digital Fabrication is pleased to operate in a building which embodies the vision for a new digital building culture.

The largely digital planning and construction process took plave over six years and involved architects, civil engineers, building service engineers and construction physicists from six of the professorships at the Institute of Technology in Architecture at ETH Zurich. Together, they have created a laboratory within which experiementation projects are conducted under real-world conditions and where the latest findings and prototypes are developed at the 1:1 scale.

Robot-fabricated timber roof
The curved timber roof of the Arch_Tec_Lab was fully prefabricated by a single gantry robot using an integrated digital planning and production process developed under the supervision of the NCCR Digital Fabrication’s principal investigators Prof. Fabio Gramazio and Prof. Matthias Kohler. Together their team from ETH Zurich’s Chair for Architecture and Digital Fabrication worked with specialist planners and the fabricator ERNE to design, engineer and execute the project from conception to reality. Built from more than 48,000 individual timber beams with individual lengths of up to 3.10 metres, the roof construction has a span of around 15 metres. 168 robotically assembled trusses integrate the entire service infrastructure, from fire protection to lighting, and distribute the loads from the roof down to twelve steel columns. With its elegant undulating form and changing ambient light the roof is a graceful structure, bare of any other cladding, which appears as a single surface covering the 2,300 square metres of the Arch_Tec_Lab research spaces.

Large-scale Robotic Fabrication Laboratory for Continuing Collaboration
The scientists are keen to pursue the collaborative approach that they chose for the construction of the Arch_Tec_Lab: there are no individual offices in the new building, which means more common areas for smaller and larger groups alike. Located on the ground floor, the Robotic Fabrication Laboratory, as well initiated and planned by the NCCR’s principal investigators Prof. Fabio Gramazio and Prof. Matthias Kohler, exemplifies how the Arch_Tec_Lab’s approach creates new spaces for interdisciplinary experiments in construction. Here, a ceiling-mounted gantry system allows for large-scale implementation of construction projects by means of four cooperating industrial robots. The robotics laboratory serves researchers from the Institute of Technology in Architecture as well as researchers from the NCCR Digital Fabrication, and was created in close cooperation with ABB and Güdel.

The NCCR Digital Fabrication management now resides in the Arch_Tec_Lab office area and many of its researchers inhabit the research gallery and the new Robotic Fabrication Laboratory.

The official news release, factsheets, high-resolution images and a video about the Arch_Tec_Lab can be found on the ETH News:

Image credits: Andrea Diglas / ITA / Arch-Tec-Lab AG
Image caption: Curved wooden roof construction covering the entire building