The DFAB House meets Switzerland’s strict building safety codes.
Erecting a new building ranks among the most inefficient, polluting activities humans undertake. The construction sector is responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s total energy consumption and CO2 emissions, according to a UN global survey (pdf).
A consortium of Swiss researchers has one answer to the problem: working with robots. The proof of concept comes in the form of the DFAB House, celebrated as the first habitable building designed and planned using a choreography of digital fabrication methods.
The three-level building near Zurich features 3D-printed ceilings, energy-efficient walls, timber beams assembled by robots on site, and an intelligent home system. Developed by a team of experts at ETH Zurich university and 30 industry partners over the course of four years, the DFAB House, measuring 2,370 square feet (220 square meters), needed 60% less cement and has passed the stringent Swiss building safety codes.
“This is a new way of seeing architecture,” says Matthias Kohler, a member of DFAB’s research team. The work of architects has long been presented in terms of designing inspiring building forms, while the technical specifics of construction has been relegated to the background. Kohler thinks this is quickly changing. “Suddenly how we use resources to build our habitats is at the center of architecture,” he argues. “How you build matters.”
DFAB isn’t the first building project to use digital fabrication techniques. In 2014, Chinese company WinSun demonstrated the architectural potential of 3D printing by manufacturing 10 single-story houses in one day. A year later, the Shanghai-based company also printed an apartment building and a neoclassical mansion, but these projects remain in the development phase.
Kohler explains that beating construction speed records wasn’t necessarily their goal. “Of course we’re interested in gaining breakthroughs in speed and economy, but we tried to hold to the idea of quality first,” he says. “You can do things very, very fast but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually sustainable.”