DFAB House Brings ETH Zurich 3D Printing and Digital Construction Techniques from Research Lab to Construction Site

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Most people, by now, have at least heard about 3D printed houses and other structures. They’re not exactly commonplace, yet, and they’re still amazing to think about and to see, but they’re not as unbelievable as they were a very short time ago. The DFAB House, however, is something different. The three-story structure, which is being built by professors at ETH Zurich along with several business partners, is a showcase of multiple digital technologies developed at the university. According to ETH Zurich, the DFAB House will be the first house to be designed, planned and built using almost entirely digital processes – a wide variety of them.

Construction on the three-story, 200-square-meter building is taking place at NEST, the modular research and innovation building on Empa and Eawag’s campus in Dübendorf, Switzerland. NEST was built as a center for testing new building and energy technologies in real-life conditions. A central support structure with three open platforms allows for individual construction projects, or innovation units, to take place on location. Recently, construction began on the DFAB House, which will serve as a residence and workspace for Empa and Eawag researchers and NEST partners upon completion. The project is part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication, a national initiative focused on the development and implementation of digital technology in construction.

A computer-generated rendering of the DFAB House

Eight professors from ETH Zurich are working on the project in the hopes of exploring how digital technologies can make construction more sustainable and efficient, as well as increasing its design potential. ETH Zurich has become well-known for its advanced design and construction techniques, and several of those techniques are going to be tested in the real world for the first time in the production of the DFAB House.

Mesh Mold is a technology that won an ETH Zurich team the Swiss Technology Award at the end of 2016, and it’s now playing a large role in the construction of the DFAB House. A robot, known as In situ Fabricator, will move autonomously on caterpillar tracks, creating a formwork of steel wire mesh that will also serve as reinforcement for concrete. Densely woven together, the mesh holds the concrete in place until it hardens and creates a strong, double-curved, load-bearing wall. Those walls will be part of the ground floor, which has been designed as an open plan living and working area.

The ceiling will be composed of a Smart Slab, the formwork for which will be 3D printed from sand. The ground floor façade will be produced using Smart Dynamic Casting, an automated robotic slip-forming process that produces bespoke concrete façade mullions without the need for individual formwork. Finally, the two upper floors, which will have separate rooms unlike the ground floor, are being fabricated using a technique called Spatial Timber Assemblies, which involves robotic assembly of timber elements. That process will take place at ETH Zurich’s Robotic Fabrication Laboratory.

“Unlike construction projects that use only a single digital building technology, such as 3D printed houses, the DFAB HOUSE brings a range of new digital building technologies together,” said Matthias Kohler, Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication, founder of NCCR Digital Fabrication, and initiator of the DFAB House project. “This allows us to use the advantages of each individual method as well as their synergies, and express them architecturally.”

ETH Zurich professors involved in the DFAB House project include:

  • Matthias Kohler, Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication
  • Fabio Gramazio, Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication
  • Benjamin Dillenburger, Chair for Digital Building Technologies
  • Joseph Schwartz, Chair of Structural Design
  • Robert Flatt, Institute for Building Materials
  • Walter Kaufmann, Institute of Structural Engineering
  • Guillaume Habert, Institute of Construction & Infrastructure Management
  • Jonas Buchli, Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems

These professors have all been part of the development of the digital construction methods being used to build the DFAB House, as part of NCCR Digital Fabrication. Partnerships between different scientific disciplines, as well as between research and industry, have helped bring these technologies from the research lab to the construction site.

[Image: Empa]

“We are convinced that this collaboration is worthwhile for both sides. An increasing number of Swiss companies, such as Erne AG Holzbau, which is the general contractor for the DFAB HOUSE and was previously involved in building the Arch_Tec_Lab at ETH Zurich, want to proactively use the opportunities of digital technologies – something that gives us great pleasure,” said Kohler.

The DFAB House is expected to be inhabited by summer of 2018, but the digital technology innovation doesn’t end there. Led by digitalSTROM and including input from several other Swiss companies, an initiative will be undertaken to make the house a smart home, with several Internet of Things technologies being tested. It will include systems and devices that communicate with each other and can learn, and which will work to make the building more energy efficient and comfortable. Discuss in the DFAB House forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: ETH Zurich / Images: NCCR Digital Fabrication]

 

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