Light, stable – and built by a robot
The University of Stuttgart sets new standards in lightweight construction architecture with a new research pavilion
10 August 2015
Simultaneously lightweight and stable like a spider’s thread: that is the hallmark of the University of Stuttgart’s 2014/2015 research pavilion. The employees of the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) actually got the inspiration for the design from nature. The manner in which the water spider builds its nests under water served as the example.
The spider builds a bell-shaped nest with its threads in the water and then fills it with air. This air bubble ensures that the spider can survive under water. It even lays its eggs inside the bubble. Inspired by this unique way of building, the research pavilion first consisted of a soft ETFE foil supported by air pressure. Carbon fibers were then gradually glued on from the inside with help from a KUKA robot from the KR QUANTEC ultra family.
The result: an ultra-light fiber-composite shell. This gives the pavilion not only its shape but also its unique architectural quality. Since the carbon fibers are only applied where they are required to support the design and the pneumatic formwork is also used as a functionally integrated building envelope, the construction process does not produce waste and conserves resources.
In order to place the carbon fibers on the inside of the pliant foil, a prototype robotic manufacturing process was developed. This was a particular challenge for control of the robot since the stiffness of the pneumatic formwork changes during the fiber application process and produces fluctuating deformations. To allow these parameters to be adapted throughout the manufacturing process, the current position and application pressure are detected using an integrated sensor system and integrated into the robot controller in real time. This type of cyber-physical system enables constant feedback between the real manufacturing conditions and the digital generation of the robot control code. This represents not only an important development within the framework of this project, but also points the way more generally to new possibilities for robotic construction processes.