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Fabric Forms

Prototype for robotically-positioned fabric formwork for concrete.

While Robots are being used to automate assembly-line work flows across the globe, many architects are asking, how can robots be used to create otherwise impossible geometry?  Indeed robots are changing not just how we build, but what we build. Why should casting concrete be a static process? Variation in design has necessitated a variable formwork, capable of adapting to new forms and new methods of construction. This study combined the flexibility of fabric with the precision of 6-axis robot arms to cast a diverse family of shapes from a single fabric mold.

Traditional casting methods promote repetition of forms. Any variation in the design requires a new form to be built (usually out of plywood), not to mention the difficulty of casting compound shapes without breakage when the mold is removed. Robotically-positioned fabric formwork will make these barriers a thing of the past. Joseph Sarafian, AIA and Ron Culver, AIA took what they gained in a technology seminar with Julia Koerner at UCLA and expanded it into a process for realizing variation in parametric geometry. Sewn Lycra sleeves are attached to 6-Axis Kuka robots and stretched into position. Concrete with fiber admixture is then poured into the sleeves and hardens. The fabric is stripped away with minimal waste, the robots re-position themselves and a new piece is cast. Connecting the pieces is achieved through bolting with a  3D printed node. And since the entire composition is designed in 3D, each unique connection angle can be coordinated for a seamless connection in the physical world. Gravitational and fabric behavior were simulated in 3D using Grasshopper3D and Kangaroo.

This project is currently being scaled up to achieve building-scale elements including facades and primary structure. A built pavilion is currently under construction for a conference in Palm Springs to debut in March. Ron and Joseph founded Form Found Design, Inc. bringing on Steve Fuchs to continue their mission to roll out this process at the industry level.

Ron Culver and Joseph Sarafian began this project as an independent study while at UCLA Suprastudio under Julia Koerner. Early experiments were aided by Peter Vikar, Shobitha Jacob, Oscar Li, and Qi Zhang

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