The fourth edition of the ROB|ARCH conference series, hosted by the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication at ETH Zurich with the support of well-known industry partners, took place from 9th–14th September 2018. The event brought together more than 400 academics and practitioners from the fields of architecture, engineering, computer science, robotics and materials science to discuss and experiment with current advances in the field of robotics in architecture, art and design.

Initiated in 2012 by the international Association for Robots in Architecture, the ROB|ARCH conference series is one of the world’s leading forums for the discussion of and hands on experience with robots in architecture. This year’s event was supported by well-respected industry players such as Autodesk, Kuka, Arup, the Boston Consulting Group, Sika, ERNE AG Holzbau, Moog, and Bachmann Engineering. The event was split into three days of workshops, followed by two days of academic conference with 35 paper presentations, four keynotes and two panel discussions. A clear highlight was the opening keynote and panel discussion, which also served as the closing ceremony of this year’s sister conference, Digital Concrete 2018, the 1st RILEM International Conference on Concrete and Digital Fabrication. The international premiere brought together close to 300 experts in robotics and concrete science to discuss innovation in digital fabrication with cementitious materials.

Real world design solutions

ROB|ARCH 2018 kicked off with 11 hands-on workshops. All were led by international experts from academia and industry, exploring themes from 3D printing on geometrically complex surfaces through multi-robotic construction in limited spaces, to using augmented reality to refine building processes and using a robotic chainsaw to create custom wood joints from tree trunks. The workshops allowed participants to learn new design and building methods and experiment with new robotic fabrication techniques and tools. The excitement of the 150 participants was palpable, with ETH Zurich’s Robotic Fabrication Lab buzzing with both anticipation and caffeine as researchers jointly explored the potential of new fabrication techniques in terms of novel architectural expressions, material efficiency, new materials and process efficiencies.

New faces and established experts

The two day academic conference followed the workshops, with the opening keynote by Chris Luebkeman from Arup Foresight who passionately spoke about design with digital fabrication. His speech was followed by the opening panel comprised of six respected players from both academia and industry, discussing interdisciplinarity, societal impact, sustainability and the challenges of transferring research into practice. Panellist, robotic vision professor Margharita Chli noted that she does not, “Feel that there is opposition between robots and humans, that maybe we need to just start thinking, well if I can’t do it, maybe a computer can”. During the following days, additional keynotes were delivered by Mette Ramsgaard-Thomsen, Professor of Architecture and Digital Technologies and Head of CITA at KADK; Phillip Yuan, Professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, China, and Founder of Archi-Union; and Jonas Buchli, Former Professor of Agile and Dexterous Robotics at ETH Zurich and now researcher at Deepmind. Buchli, who delivered the final keynote, gave the industry one final push for collaboration, saying that “You cannot do things like digital fabrication in a single discipline, experts must sit together and be open minded”.

In addition to 35 paper presentations, at Rob|Arch 2018 the Association for Robots in Architecture recognised individuals, institutions and companies who have had a significant impact on the Robots in Architecture community. A full list of winners given below.

The successful conference concluded with a trip to the EMPA – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf to visit the NEST project and view the DFAB HOUSE. Visitors were able to experience the results of digital fabrication brought to life in the first ever building to be predominantly built using different novel digital construction technologies.

Rob|Arch 2018: Radical Cross-Disciplinarity – Workshop Highlights from robotsinarchitecture on Vimeo.

Don’t forget to check out the selected videos from the Robots in Architecture call for videos.
Watch the keynote lectures and panel discussions on our YouTube channel.

Moving towards a digital future

As digital fabrication becomes a more established discipline, Switzerland has clearly established its position on the global map, and the Swiss NCCR Digital Fabrication continues to foster interdisciplinary research and discussions on an international level to further advance the implementation of digital technologies in architecture and construction. Conference participants and the International Association for Robots in Architecture are already looking forward to the next edition of ROB|ARCH, which will take place in Beijing, China, in 2020.

Robots in Architecture Awards
Community Contribution Award: Bernd Liepert, eurobotics
Pioneering Industry Award: Platt Boyd, Branch Technology
Pioneering Achievement Award: Carsten Løddesøl and Kjetil Traedal Thorsen, Snøhetta
Technology Transfer Award: Xu Wieguo, Tsinghua University
Newcomer Award: Yu Lei, Architecture Solution Workshop
Pioneering Research Award: Jonas Buchli, ETH Zurich

Conference Awards
Young Potential Best Paper Award Runner Up 2018: “Hard+Soft: Robotic Needle Felting for Nonwoven Textiles“ by Wes McGee, Tsz Yan Ng, and Asa Peller
Young Potential Best Paper Award Runner Up 2018: “Towards the Development of Fabrication Machine Species for Filament Materials“ by Maria Yablonina and Achim Menges
Young Potential Best Paper Award 2018: “FIBERBOTS: Design and Digital Fabrication of Tubular Structures Using Robot Swarms“ by Markus Kayser, Levi Cai, Christoph Bader, Sara Falcone, Nassia Inglessis, Barrak Darweesh, João Costa, and Neri Oxman

Best Workshop Runner Up 2018: “Robo-Stim: Mixed Reality Robotic Stimulation for Collaborative Design Exploration“ GREYSHED
Best Workshop Runner Up 2018: “Sub-additive 3D printing of optimized double curved concrete lattice thin shell structures“
Best Workshop 2018: “Augmented Robotics: Mixed reality environments for on-demand fabrication, assembly and analysis of complex steel structures“