Robots and AI assist in designing and building Swiss university’s ‘hanging gardens’

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Architecture and construction have always been quietly on the bleeding edge of tech and material trends. It is no surprise, especially at a renowned technical university like ETH Zurich, to find a project that uses AI and robotics in a new approach to these arts. The automated design and construction they’re experimenting with shows how homes and offices can be built a decade from now.

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The project is a kind of giant sculptural planter, a “hanging garden” inspired by mythological structures in the ancient city of Babylon. (Incidentally, it was my ancestor, Robert Koldavi, who did the famous digging/robbing Ishtar Gate on thisplace.)

Started in 2019, Semiramis (named after the Queen of Babylon at the time) is a collaboration between human and AI designers. Of course the general idea came from the creative minds of its creators, architecture professors Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Koehler, But the design was achieved by inserting basic requirements, such as size, water requirement and style of construction, through a set of computer models and machine learning algorithms.

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During the design process, for example, the team may change the position of one of the larger “pods” that make up the 70-foot structure, or the layout of the panels that make up its surface. The software they built will quickly adjust the geometry of the overall structure and other panels to accommodate these changes, ensure that it will still safely bear its own weight, and so on.

Computer rendering of what the final Semiramis Hanging Gardens structure will look like. image credit: Gramagio Kohler Research

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Of course, there are many automated processes in architecture, but this project pushes the boundaries beyond the level of ultimate control they seem to have. The thing, after all, is to make it a real collaboration, not just a sort of architectural spell-check that makes sure the whole thing doesn’t collapse.

“Computer models let us reverse the traditional design process and explore the full design scope for a project. This leads to new, often surprising geometries,” Kohler said in an ETHZ news post,

After arriving at a final design, construction is being completed by another human-automation team: a set of four robotic arms that work with a single mind to hold several heavy pieces (dozens in each pod) while the humans The resin is used to hold them together. It’s a step up from the technology we used a few years ago by the same team when they used robots as automated assistants.

Semiramis is being manufactured in the workshop and then shipped piece by piece to its final home in the Tech Cluster Jug. It should be fully assembled and ready to accept soil and seed this coming spring, so stop by if you’re in the area.

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