ROB|ARCH 2024: Beyond Optimization

Last month, the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, and Toronto Metropolitan University’s Design + Technology Lab at the Creative School welcomed the annual Robots in Architecture (ROB|ARCH) conference.

As the practice of architectural design evolves, digital fabrication has evolved alongside it.

Industrial machines once used primarily for monotonous, assembly-line tasks have been advanced and integrated into the field of design and creative practice.

This topic was centre stage in Toronto in late May as the City’s two leading design schools, the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, and Toronto Metropolitan University’s Design + Technology Lab at the Creative School, welcomed the annual Robots in Architecture (ROB|ARCH) conference. Framed, this year, around the idea of “Beyond Optimization”, the known limits of digital fabrication were surpassed by the exceptional rigour and innovation presented through the week’s workshops, paper discussions and keynote panels.

ROB|ARCH (Photo credit: 6ix Filmz)

ROB|ARCH 2024 began with a series of eight workshops running from May 21st – 23rd, split between the design spaces at the Daniels Faculty and the Creative School. The workshops were led by practitioners in the architecture and robotic fabrication realm, coming from institutions across North America, the United States, Europe and beyond. Among the broad group of participants were post-secondary students dipping their toe in the robotics practice, as well as digifab veterans hoping to diversify both their skill set and their robotic-enthusiast network.

ROB|ARCH (Photo credit: 6ix Filmz)

One of the workshops teams who demonstrated the seamless integration of robotic workflows into their architectural practice came from the offices of Zahner and Perkins&Will. In their workshop, “Sculpting Space with On-Site Robotics”, the team exhibited their panelized metal Skin Assembly’ fabrication workflow, a system deployed to scale at Zahner’s SoFi Stadium facade in Inglewood, California. Other workshops focused on robots for unique visualization tasks, notably the Dropship Joyride workshop, led by researchers and roboticists from Autodesk. This workshop brought participants into the world of robotically-aided motion capture, which culminated in the creation of short sci-fi film sequences, uniquely crafted by participant groups.

As the workshops concluded, the conference days began at the Daniels Faculty, taking place May 24th and 25th. The ROB|ARCH host team hit the ground running with a series of thoughtful presentations that included insight into the their professional passions, background on the careers of the workshop leads, and insights into the successes of the workshops themselves.

Over the two days, 6 paper sessions were conducted, featuring a total of 25 papers presenting unique and inventive research projects on the benefits of robotic programming to improve the state of contemporary design.

ROB|ARCH (Photo credit: 6ix Filmz)

Architect Eszter Olah, who works with Budapest-based Hello Wood, presented on her paper titled “Synergizing Natural Material Complexity and Low-Impact Automation”, which focused on structural members comprised of low-cost, renewable materials and low-complexity fabrication methods. Olah proposes the use of bio-based materials that are woven using relatively accessible methods to standardize the specialized practice of robotic fabrication workflows, to disseminate this practice to a wider range of builders.

The paper sessions were broken up with coffee break sessions for networking, and three captivating keynote presentations by leading creatives in the robotics practice. “It was an honour to present my keynote on Creative Robotics at this year’s ROB|ARCH 2024, and to learn about advances in the field from new colleagues and peers,” said keynote presenter and artist, Sougwen Chung. “I look forward to seeing this group shape the industry for years to come.”

On the final evening, Olah’s paper, along with eight other presented papers and 3 of the workshops, were recognized with awards at the culminating ROB|ARCH dinner, which took place at Victoria College on the University of Toronto campus. This collective celebration among a diverse range of designers in technology was well deserved and was exemplary of the further collaborations and creative endeavours set to come in the future of robots in architecture.

ROB|ARCH (Photo credit: 6ix Filmz)
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