Pioneering architect Arthur Mamou-Mani has argued that 3D printing is not the future of the architecture industry, but that smart robots that can learn from mistakes will have a significant impact on the industry’s future.
Speaking to Design & Build Review, the director of Mamou-Mani and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts explained that he does not share the popular view that 3D-printed homes could be a solution to international housing problems and revolutionise the way architects do their work.
“I think with 3D-printing there are so many attempts to do homes, 3D-printing the first home. I don’t think that there’s a place that someone lives in that has been 3D printed; I think there are conceptual ones,” he said. “I’m not sure that extruding in concrete, for I don’t know how much time, to create a building is the solution.”
Instead, he decided to focus on machines responsible for design, rather than the design itself. For an annual design competition organised by ARUP, his company entered a machine dubbed the Polibot, a small, cuboid robot equipped with shelf-like arms that can pick up and deposit pieces of material such as wood. The robot is attached via wires to a series of poles placed around the building site, allowing it to move in a similar way to a spidercam.
“It’s a crane,” said Mamou-Mani. “It’s really just a crane, but it’s a robotically-controlled crane so it allows people like us that are trained in digital fabrication to scale up to buildings, and really I think that’s the biggest challenge, at least for me, is scaling up to the building scale.
“Because of its complexity, because of what we’re building and the tolerances, it has what’s called a feedback loop, it goes and reads itself and autocorrects when there is a problem. So I really hope this will mean the future of construction.”
The Polibot, which uses a simple Microsoft Kinect to provide 3D vision, remains a work in progress. Mamou-Mani proposed using it to build London’s Holocaust Memories, but ultimately lost out on a contract to rival designers David Adjaye and Ron Arad.
However, Mamou-Mani remains optimistic about the future of its technology, saying:
“What’s really, really important now, especially at that scale, is the idea of machine learning and self-correction and feedback loops.”