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livMatS Biomimetic Shell – The Future of Robotic Prefabrication

livMatS Biomimetic Shell – The Future of Robotic Prefabrication
26 July 2023

A pioneering research building at the University of Freiburg is being hailed as a best-in-class example of a robotically manufactured sustainable building.


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The building itself is a research project of the Integrative Computational Design and Construction for Architecture (IntCDC) at the University of Stuttgart and Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS) at the University of Freiburg, which are investigating an integrative approach to design and construction for sustainable architecture.  

The livMatS Biomimetic Shell at the FIT Freiburg Center for Interactive Materials and Bioinspired Technologies is a fully deconstructible and reusable building. Designed to be easily dismantled and reused, it is built from sustainable timber. Compared to a conventional timber building, the FIT Biomimetic Shell reduces the total environmental life cycle impact by 50 per cent.



Picture: a photograph of the livMatS Biomimetic Shell exterior. Image Credit: Roland Halbe


Robotic Spider Cranes in Construction


The building is made up of segmental shells which were suitable for assembly on-site due to the high precision in prefabrication and the low component weight. The assembly method consists of a robotic spider crane that picks up components with a vacuum gripper, automatically places them at the corresponding installation position and holds them in position until they are also automatically screwed together. A second spider crane equipped with a new type of screw effector automatically approaches the edges to be screwed and inserts all screws. To ensure quality assurance a digital scan of selected cassettes was created using a terrestrial laser scanner, which could then be compared with the target design geometry. These measurements were carried out both after production, immediately before assembly on the construction site, and in the installed state. A scan of the finished shell was also taken to finally evaluate the geometry.

"This form of human-machine interaction in the manufacturing process enables the effective, digitally controlled production of complex components with a high degree of precision," said Professor Achim Menges from the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and spokesperson for the IntCDC Cluster of Excellence at the University of Stuttgart. 


Weather-Responsive Buildings


Embedded in the timber shell is the "Solar Gate", a large-scale skylight which contributes to the regulation of the indoor climate by means of a biomimetic, energy-autonomous, 4D-printed shading system. This "solar gate" is modelled on pine cones, which open and close in a moisture-controlled manner.

A weather-responsive shading system on the skylight also regulates the building's climate by shielding the interior from high heat loads in summer while allowing solar gains in winter. This allows the material structure of the shading elements to self-shape in response to changes in daily and seasonal weather cycles to regulate the indoor climate. The 424 self-shaping shading elements are made of bio-based materials and are located in 10m² box windows at the skylight. These were programmed using a 4D-printing process to provide year-round solar shading while harvesting solar heat without requiring any operating energy. Together, the Solar Gate's weather-responsive façade, highly insulated building envelope and activated floor slab create a thermally comfortable space year-round without the need for any other HVAC equipment.

"Our goal is to operate the pavilion in an energy-neutral way," says Professor Jürgen Rühe from the Department of Microsystems Engineering and member of the spokesperson team of the livMatS Cluster of Excellence at the University of Freiburg.

"In the future, we will also explore other solutions for designing building facades that can adapt to changing environmental conditions, such as temperature. In this way, we can create a pleasant indoor climate and enable the building to operate in a CO2-neutral manner.”

Picture: a photograph of a robotic arm during the construction. Image Credit: ICD/ITKE/IntCDC University of Stuttgart

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 26 July 2023


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