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Machine-Grown Housing 111

Posted by Zonk
from the architecture-as-art dept.
Eric Harris-Braun writes "Over at Wired, Bruce Sterling has a story about a new way of looking at architecture and building. In fact, computer sculpting of housing is already being done, and non-planned building as an architectural philosphy, is as old as we are, as you can read in The Hand Sculpted House."
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Machine-Grown Housing

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  • by j1bb3rj4bb3r (808677) * on Friday February 11, 2005 @10:42PM (#11649175)
    This tactic allows him to avoid hidebound European safety regulations when he proposes, for instance, a steel footbridge whose design, sketched using industry-standard CAD software, has been radically distorted by a computer virus. Ask Europeans to cross a buggy footbridge and they'll balk, quail, and consult the 80,000 regulatory pages of the EU's acquis communautaire. Tell them it's art, and they'll flock to it in droves, sit on it, and drink Beaujolais nouveau.

    And when it collapses under the weight of that flock...

    wtf... this dude is nuts.
  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Friday February 11, 2005 @10:44PM (#11649184) Journal
    Essentially, you build as you need. So if you need a shelf in a certain spot, then you build it there. You can't know everything about how you will use all the space in your house, so the key is to wait until it becomes obvious that something will always be done in a certain way and build to that "spec".

    I believe that they did this in UC Berkeley. Instead of building sidewalks, they put some sod on the quad and let the students "create" the trails across the grass. Once the paths were established by thousands of students walking on the grass every day, the school built sidewalks on top of the paths and that is how the sidewalks on the quad at Berkeley were built. No one uses those sidewalks anymore, though, because the grass is so much nicer to walk on than concrete.

    So the key is to build as you need, but not to build to the point where you start to avoid the thing you were building it for in the first place.
    • by 10000000000000000000 (809085) on Friday February 11, 2005 @11:00PM (#11649255)
      Another example of utilitarian design being not the best method would be the early Intersates in the US.

      At first they were built as vast point-to-point straight lines miles and miles long.

      This design led to very boring drives, and consequently people fell asleep at the wheel.

      Modern highways the world over tend to have gradually sweeping or rising and descending layouts as a result of this.
      • That is because the early interstate highways did not have, as a primary design goal, the confort of civialians driving on them. They were meant to be used as troup and equiptment transports during a war with the USSR and secondary landing strips for military aircraft is why they had to have X feet of straight road every Y feet.

      • This design led to very boring drives, and consequently people fell asleep at the wheel.

        I disagree. The biggest cause of boredom I encounter are the speed limits on roads that could safely be driven at twice the artificially depressed rates at which traffic is often forced to flow.

        Yes, for the math challenged among you, I am saying that you don't have to look far to find 55 mile per hour limits on roads that could safely be driven at 110. As a practical matter, I realize that a somewhat lower limit

      • At first they were built as vast point-to-point straight lines miles and miles long.

        This design led to very boring drives, and consequently people fell asleep at the wheel.


        Man! We were so close! A blip of about 30 or 40 years between those straight stretches of highway, and self-navigating vehicles.

        How much easier would it have been if when those straight stretches were built, to imbed some magnetic waypoints. Dang.
      • My memory on some of this is a bit rusty, and maybe I never knew what I was talking about in the first place but it's easier to post than research so....

        Early on, the Germans - originators of the modern high-speed road network - learned that drivers get "hypnotised" on long, straight stretches of road so they began to design the autobahn with plenty of sweeping curves and gradients. The topography of much of the countryside helps with this, too.

        The US Interstates were built much faster and cheaper, and th

    • Not a bad idea.

      I think students have been trying this as schools all over the country. They walk were it makes sense, and you can see the beaten paths were they go, thus were the sidewalk should be.

      Unfortunately the school i went to, Penn State, decided that if students make a path across an area, that the best solution is to put up a drooping chain fence, or to put some scrubs at the ends of were they walked. Instead of just getting rid of the paths no one uses and moving them to were they do. Unfortu
      • Oh, and if a PSU sidewalk person is reading this, asphalt is not a sidewalk material!


        Nor is wood chips that float away every time it rains, Virginia Tech! (yes, they actually tried that!)
        • "Nor is wood chips that float away every time it rains, Virginia Tech! (yes, they actually tried that!)"

          When i visited DC a few years back I noticed that many of the paths along the mall were not concerete or asphalt, but rather crushed stone on dirt. I thought it was the best thing about the visit, besides a few of the rockets at the air and space museum of course, that the seat of power for the US government didn't pave over its paths. Something symbolic about that as well as practical. I'm guessing s
        • Penn state does this too, though mainly as temporary sidewalks.

          PSU is also the place that invented spray on grass, basically grass seed, with liquid fertilizer and green pigment. They spray it on bare dirt and it it looks like grass from a distance, then in time real grass should grow. But from what i saw that rarely happens and it just gets washed into cracks in the first rain.
      • From what others have told me, my school is something of an oddity. Here at GVSU, I've seen them put in three sidewalks where there is consistently a footpath, leaving only one beaten path anywhere on campus. (I'm fairly sure that one isn't being put in because it is too steep.)
    • by Genda (560240) <mariet@g[ ]net ['ot.' in gap]> on Saturday February 12, 2005 @12:50AM (#11649699) Journal
      The problem with most authoritarian mindsets is that they think that it's their job to force people to do what they want, when they want, as they want. When you get good at riding the horse in the direction it's already going you can cause all kinds of interesting results.

      The next step for Berkeley is to pave the footpaths with something that feels as good as grass, is more fun, and easier to keep up. Take old rubber tires and cut them into 1 cm. chunks. Mix that with a slury of earth and a white polymer, and you get a cool, soft, inexpensive material that is waterproof and resilient. It'll give as you walk on it, and feel good to the bare footed. It'll last years and can be chewed up and reused if, and when the paths change.

      By making the spaces conform to human use, and by making the space intelligent enough to conform as humans use the space, you eliminate space as the primary constraint to human creativity and imagination. This is the evolution of the conscious environment. This is the trend, creating places for human beings that honors our need for shelter, but removing the artificial limitations of social construct. We're genetically predisposed to tribalism. Our religion and societies have worked against that. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the forces that shape our interactions begin to yield to the fundamental designs of our own humanity. I for one welcome the change.

      Genda

      -- The best way to teach a generation to think outside the box, is to eliminate the boxes...
      • We're genetically predisposed to tribalism. Our religion and societies have worked against that.

        Methinks that we're genetically predisposed to organized religion and stratisfied societies, too. If we weren't, they wouldn't really have taken over, now would they?
        • Yes, in a way we are so predisposed. But whereas tribal groups are more directly "intentional" in that living in close-knit groups _directly_ conferred a survival advantage upon our ancestors, the two social structures you mentioned are only emergent properties of more basic underlying predispositions,
      • Take old rubber tires and cut them into 1 cm. chunks. Mix that with a slury of earth and a white polymer, and you get a cool, soft, inexpensive material that is waterproof and resilient. It'll give as you walk on it, and feel good to the bare footed.

        It does feel good walking on recycled tyre foam, it was used as a spongy concrete-like playground safety base for awhile. Then the scuttle got out about how tyre manufacturing uses cadmium as a colour fixant, and it seems to have stopped being used.

        Cadmium [scorecard.org] i


    • I don't know about you, but if I tried something like an unplaned house on my land - I suspect that the zoneing police wouldn't fine me, or even arrest me, but simply beat me to a bloody pulp! But oh, boy would I love to figure out how to get arround it.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Move to Houston, or an incorporated area of Texas. Many fairly urban areas of Texas are unzoned, and Houston is the largest unzoned city in the world.
  • by mg2 (823681)
    The moon or Mars would be a natural venue for the concept, a place too hostile for mankind, where viabs could work around the clock: Let robots spit out a city, then settle in when it's ready.

    You'll land in the bathroom/livingroom/spacedock shaped like a booger, and then you can relax in the bedroom/backyard or use your machine-built PC in the garage

    I just fail to see how this amorphous abstract thing would be practical. Admittedly, it would be cool looking and unique, but still.
    • From what I can tell, it's supposed to be a building that reacts to the occupants - if you don't walk through a given corridor, the building would theoretically detect the lack of wear and seal up the hole. Similarly, if you kick a hole in the wall from your dining room to your kitchen that makes a more direct path that gets used frequently, it'd keep that area clear as long as it sees it get used.

      It would probably be more suitable for a workplace type setting, because room specs have been basically stand
  • Robotic Termites? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RockDork (748176) on Friday February 11, 2005 @10:59PM (#11649250)

    Randomly constructed, on demand buildings. Sounds like the makings of a termite mound....
  • Open Source Housing.

    "Oh, my! We need a coffee maker!"
    "Look! The Joneses developed one last month! Let's modify theirs and distribute it throughout the house!"

    Some questions arise:
    Do I need to raze my old house if I want to change distrobutions?
    How many users does that model support?
    What kind of designers made the graphical interface; as in: will I want to operate my house from the basement only?
  • This is the key... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by El Gordo Motoneta (821753) on Friday February 11, 2005 @11:01PM (#11649262)
    To UGLY and BROKEN houses and buildings. There's a large percentage of
    architecture as a human activity that involves creativity and the ability to
    solve new problems as they come up.

    If you tell me you can help design a bridge or a road with the aid of software,
    then i'll buy it, but designing homes (what architecture is about) is way beyond the cold structure design.

    Where I live, there's some kind of rivalry (sp?) between architects and what
    in my country is referred as a "civil engineer", which is an engineer specialized in structural design and buildings. Both are able to build a house,
    but most of the times you can easily spot the difference between a house built
    by an architect and a house built by an engineer: Houses built by engineers look "clunky", and while they may be built correctly from a structural point of view, they ocasionally suffer from design flaws such as having bedrooms too close to the kitchen (which means the odor of food being cooked invades other parts of the house). Put simply, the engineer knows about functionality. They
    don't know about "aesthetic design". And this is something a computer will never be able to learn either.

    There's this joke:
    - What's an architect?
    - An architect is someone that isn't man enough to be an engineer, but not gay anough to be an interior decorator.

    I think the joke sums it up nicely. ... Oh, and my family is about 60% architects.

    • I don't know about other people, but all I need is a big box, power, internet, and a computer; That's all any real man would ever need.

      Then again, what would Linus do?

      • That's because you are closer to the engineer-think than the architect-think.

        Geeks, nerds and techies in general seem to lack sensitivity for aesthetics. You just need a box, I just need a box, but that doesn't mean we can call a box a house.

        "He just opens the drawer, grabs the first thing that will cover his skin, put it on, and go out to the street". Sounds familiar? It does to me =oP

    • An architect is someone that isn't man enough to be an engineer, but not gay anough to be an interior decorator.

      I think the joke sums it up nicely. ... Oh, and my family is about 60% architects.


      Now if only you had gay and engineering relatives then the rest of the joke could be as inoffensive as the architect part.

      In other words, if you believe you have to qualify your 'expertise' in delivering a joke for whatever reason, chances are good that either you aren't qualified to deliver it, or it's not
      • Now if only you had gay and engineering relatives then the rest of the joke could be as inoffensive as the architect part.

        In other words, if you believe you have to qualify your 'expertise' in delivering a joke for whatever reason, chances are good that either you aren't qualified to deliver it, or it's not appropiate.

        You took it the wrong way. Lay down on the caffeine and relax.

        To label someone else's creation as ugly and broken (not to mention non-creative, clunky, flawed design, non-functional,

      • They have a thing called a "sense of humor" now. Some people find it "attractive", "aesthetically pleasing", and/or "particularly useful".
    • This invention isn't about machines doing the designing. The machine allows any design to be sculpted in concrete, subject only to the limitations of the material.

      -jcr

    • I'm sure you are from Argentina, i am argentinian too and i know people that works in the construction business. There is a clearly difference between an architect and a "civil engineer". The difference is that architects makes the structural calculations and the design (including the water and gas pipes locations) and the civil engineer chooses the materials to use (concrete density, etc.), supervises the construction and, sometimes, he also is in charge of making the electrical installations.
      They are both
    • Oh, and by the way: you can give the 'computer' restraints on how to build things. Maybe give it 4 or 5 inputs ("inhabitants will be between 4'10" and 6'4", "kitchen must be at least 15' from bathroom and bedrooms", etc.), and let it fly.

      Granted, they'd still be ugly houses.
    • I take it you've never lived in a house or building that suffered from problems caused by human shortcomings - such as lazyness, taking intentional shortcuts to save cost, and downright building code violations, then.
  • by Anonymous Coward
  • Roger Dean!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdot @ e x i t 0.us> on Friday February 11, 2005 @11:17PM (#11649306) Homepage
    He has some great ideas (shown here [rogerdean.com] ) that would really be great looking with this kind of thing. No more ugly boxes!
    • He has some atrocious ideas. I do not want to be unable to put anything on any wall at any time. That's the flat-out worst house design ever. He's removed 100% of the useable wallspace! It'd be a chore to hang even one picture in there.
      • Hmmm, picture-hanging capabilities aside, his house also looks incredibly claustrophobic, like the walls are closing in... He seems to have no conception of the value of space -- or lines for that matter! To be honest, I'd also say it's downright ugly; it seems fiddly and aimless.

        I was gonna ask "is this guy really an architect?!?", but I see from his web page that he's actually an artist or something. There are certainly a lot of bad architects out there, but I suppose they do teach you something in ar
        • Hmmm, picture-hanging capabilities aside, his house also looks incredibly claustrophobic, like the walls are closing in.

          True, but presumably the inhabitants will be stoned and listening to "Yessongs" most of the time, so they won't notice.

    • I dunno. There's something about his designs [rogerdean.com] that leave me wondering if my name wasn't really Pinnochio, just swallowed by a whale.

      Some of these shots might be nice if they didn't leave me with strong impressions of the intestinal tract...
    • Did you look at the schetches of Willowater? Its freakin' hobbiton. He even uses the same type of drawings used in Tolkein artwork.
    • Oh gawd awful!
      I almost went BLIND from the "Roger Dean" and "Achitecture" fonts alone.

      -
  • Lets just hope that computer doesn't run on Windows. Otherwise the water pipes will leak on your popcorn kernels and overflow the popper.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2005 @11:32PM (#11649384)
    no offense but essentially every home is built onsite in a custom manner.

    Huge portions of home building could be done in large factories, and equally huge strides could be made standarizing the hookups to electricity, communications and plumbing.

    i'm not talking about crappy mobiles...i'm talking about the absurdity of custom electrical, plumbing and framing on hundreds of millions of homes.

    the endless permits etc...people complain about software but if software were as absurd as home building you would have to get several CDs from various licensed contractors, get a permit from the state to install a computer, have the computer inspected as it is installed and each CD of components is inserted, etc...
    • Um, they do do this. It's called premanufactured or prefabricated or modular housing. And it is rising in quality and is actually a good way to build a house these days. Sort of like IKEA, they prefab the general components, and snap them together on site. Then they can work out the flaws, and then mass produce them. Very effective.
    • by StefanJ (88986)
      Freeman Dyson gave a talk in Portland last year. He presented several case studies on how technology planning went right and wrong.

      One of the anecdotes was about a research team he was invited to join during the Carter administration. A multidiciplinary team of eggheads got together to come up with ways to make housing cheaper.

      They analyzed the factors that made housing expensive, and came up with a list of proposals to make homes cheaper. Factory building components, standardization . . . it all came tog
    • This and other robotic construction techniques are inevitable. The idea of what essentially amounts to InkJet Construction is quite interesting and is certain to take off and evolve.

      What is truly interesting to consider, however, are the economic ramifications of this change. Make no mistake, this is as drastic an advancement for construction, architecture and in fact, civilization as can be.

      While the switch-over to these techniques may occur slowly at first, once the kinks are worked out of the sys
      • The implications are also unrealistic.

        Machines can do many things well, but something they can't account for the equivilent of a wrench getting thrown into their gears.

        What if there's a problem? There are three basic kinds of problems that could occur (that i can think of at this moment): site-related, hardware/software, or materials.

        The machines could, of course, make a lot of assumptions - due to their design - that things will work. This will be significantly cheaper, but result in lower-cost building
  • He has a fascinating description of a far-future city that has been constructed by machines...and then things go very very wrong...
    Best hard-SF/space opera writer out there right now, IMHO.
  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@NoSPAM.mac.com> on Saturday February 12, 2005 @01:20AM (#11649813) Journal
    I believe that I read about this something like two years ago. It amounts to a 3D printer, but it's using concrete instead of the liquid polymers that stereolith machines do.

    This has the potential to drastically cut construction costs, since you can basically eliminate the labor cost of framing the structure. You can even have the robot leave channels in the walls for plumbing, electrical conduit, etc.

    Once someone gets around to building an excavation robot to dig foundations and footings, building a house could become a two-man, three-day job (or less).

    I hope they get this tech on the market soon. A lot of people could use it yesterday.

    -jcr
  • Not a good idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dasunt (249686) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @01:41AM (#11649878)

    From the article:

    He's exploiting ideas that make perfect sense in computer-driven fabrication but have never been applied to architecture. Imagine a building where the needs and desires of its inhabitants are hot-wired to the shapes of walls and floors, which can be extended and updated ad hoc, ad infinitum.

    I have an old book around here that talks about 1890s Japanese housing, and how certain walls would be removed or replaced in the homes according to need:

    What would be a parlour in the day would be divided into sleeping rooms at night.

    There is the obvious problem with this: In Western architecture, rooms tend to hold big, bulky objects called furniture. Western culture doesn't tend to sit on tatami mats and sleep on shikibutons.

    In our culture, changes to living space tend not to be frequent: We don't convert bedrooms to living rooms daily. When we do want to remodel our homes, we tend to hire builders and remodelers. I suspect that this will be significantly cheaper for quite awhile.

    It sounds like he's trying to be innovative for the sake of being innovative.

    • We don't convert bedrooms to living rooms daily.

      Unless your relatives are visitng and you fold out the sofabed...

    • I doubt the inovative just to be inovative comment. There are some legitimate needs that the technology fits. Yes TODAY westerners aren't familiar with/don't appreciate the ability of multitasking a room or changing a space based on need. For the most part if it is a den now it will be a den in 20 years. But how many families out there are faced with the fact that their children leave and suddenly they have much more house than they need. Or families that have sudden growth through acquiring other family me
    • We don't convert bedrooms to living rooms daily.

      It depends on how well off you are. A lot of poor people actually do convert their living rooms into bedrooms - if only because they lack free rooms in their homes to do otherwise. While this was (and still is) VERY common all over central and eastern europe, you can see examples of it in western europe and north america as well. This is what fold-out couches and pull down wall-beds are for.
  • seriously though, i'd like to see tech like this machine-grown housing, combined with the sandbag house or 'old rubber tire' house concepts that have been experimented with, successfully.

    imagine a machine you just feed sandbags into, and it crawls over the building site, laying down bags (or tires) .. that'd be an awesome robot worthy of respect, and i for one would welcome its overlord-i-ness ...
  • I fear Americans would continue to build Big n' Crappy houses. The reduction in price would mean Bigger n' Crappier houses. Paul Graham [paulgraham.com] mentions this American school of design in his essay.

    Maybe some would use the technique to make hobbit-like houses and so on. But we'd see a lot of 5-car garages.
  • sortofa macro "assembler"

    wouldn't it be interesting to see someone print their simcity in real 3D
  • Marshall Brain wrote a small novel (Manna) on the idea that some day we the non-rich 99% will all live in terrafoam housing - among other things - this seems like a baby-step in that direction.

    Link to the book online -
    http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm
  • by RomulusNR (29439) on Saturday February 12, 2005 @04:43AM (#11650400) Homepage
    A: machine automated construction.

    I can't get over the way so many allegedly intelligent people cream themselves over these cute 3D animations of a huge behemoth lateral crane picking up building materials and laying them into place and voila, instant house. It must be the Lego lover's mindset, but it's not remotely as practical as it's proponents suggest. (And I still have no evidence that it is "already being done", all I see are drawings. But as Colin Powell proved, artistic drawings are proof of reality. But I digress.)

    1. You have to lie these perfectly straight 200-foot rails down at either ends of the lot, perfectly parallel and at a perfect distance. And make sure they don't move.

    2. You have to lug this huge behemoth crane on huge supports to the site and *onto the rails*.

    3. You have to place all the building materials in perfectly lined up position. Who is going to do this? Construction workers? Another expensive piece of heavy machinery?

    4. Who is going to climb up the damn thing when it gets jammed while carrying a 50-foot 10x10 support beam?

    B: these wonderful, mod-hippie earthen building materials like cob and superadobe -- all of which are top secret and require you buying book X and going to seminar Q for a hundred here and a hundred there. Nope, that ain't the way to promote an off-the-grid natural building style, that's the way to be a beemer-driving neoliberal. Instead of these wonderfully "grassroots" building techniques going on to revolutionize building and make it accessible to the common man, cob et al become the trademark of upper-middle class SUV drivers who need a way to prove to everyone that they truly are earthy and granola.

    (Let's not mention the inconvenient fact that the underprivileged and otherwise construction-disenfranchised that these cheap natural building techniques will supposedly help don't actually *own any land* to BUILD anything on!)

    I'd be curious about cob... if it wasn't that every link about it I can find actually tells you *nothing* about how to do it, but instead urges you to attend a fucking paid training session. (And oh yeah, if I were in the landed class.)

    I can process rich text, calculate spreadsheets, and read email for free, but I can't build with fucking mud and straw without going to some new age seminar. Funk dat.
    • 1. You have to lie these perfectly straight 200-foot rails down at either ends of the lot, perfectly parallel and at a perfect distance. And make sure they don't move.

      Not the end of the world. One surveyor, one worker, one afternoon.

      2. You have to lug this huge behemoth crane on huge supports to the site and *onto the rails*.

      Not any harder than bringing out that same huge crane to install the engineered trusses. Actually, easier. You only have to drop one robot, versus many engineered trusses.

      3. Yo
    • Cob isn't secret (Score:3, Informative)

      by Julian Morrison (5575)
      I can summarize a working minimum of what you need to know about building in cob in one post. That's ridiculously easy compared to brick-and-wood housing!

      FYI, here goes:

      - Clay, sand, staw. Clay binds, sand prevents shrinking, staw acts as rebar. Use subsoil from the site, tread in the straw. Measure your subsoil by shaking it in water and letting it settle in layers, to see if you need to add clay or sand. Make up test bricks to see if you got the mix right for shrinkage, cracking, and strength. You'll ne
    • Cob is hardly a secret, there are just a lot of ppl who pretend it is so they can make money off it. It's really too bad that cob and concepts like aerthships get such bad names becuase of a few asses who try to sell green 'wonders' while it's really very basic stuff.

      http://www.weblife.org/cob/
  • This is probably more art than practicality, but The Venus Project [thevenusproject.com] has some very cool renditions of automated construction. Check out the "Automated Construction" link on the following gallery:

    http://www.thevenusproject.com/vp_gallery.htm [thevenusproject.com]
  • This "technology" is a few millenia old. Sure, maybe it uses different materials and robots instead of people now to lay down the contours, but it's still the same method. And people have built pretty wild shapes out of bricks over the last few thousand years.
  • by Arivia (783328)
    *starts creating Segment Decoders and Files*
  • As the machines extrude your house, it'll be pretty easy to put in horizonatal wiring & plumbing runs -- just lay them in the damp concrete before putting the next layer on top.

    I wonder how they'll handle the vertical runs, like go from the water line up to the kitchen & baths? Also, every building code in the US requires a vent at the top of each plumbing stack, so for every bathroom that's not on top of another bathroom, you need a separate vent.

    Chip H.

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