U-M researchers debut robotically fabricated timber structure at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Public invited to Oct. 24 opening and ribbon cutting

October 21, 2021
Contact: Lilian Varner lilymich@umich.edu,
Sydney Hawkins sydhawk@umich.edu

A new structure at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens brings leading-edge fabrication research to the public space.

Arash Adel

Arash Adel

Led by Arash Adel, assistant professor of architecture at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the timber pavilion—known as Robotically Fabricated Structure, or RFS—explores new responsible and precise methods of construction.

RFS was designed and fabricated by Adel and research assistants in his ADR Laboratory, along with students in Taubman College’s master’s program in digital and material technologies. The team employed the university’s state-of-the-art robotic fabrication facilities and partnered with the structural engineering firm Silman to evaluate RFS for structural performance and building code requirements.

Robotically Fabricated Structure, now on display at U-M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens, was created through human-robot collaboration at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Image credit: Jacob Cofer/University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Robotically Fabricated Structure, now on display at U-M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens, was created through human-robot collaboration at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Image credit: Jacob Cofer/University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

“This outdoor structure offers new public gathering points while maintaining an open-air condition that respects the pandemic as well as people’s desire to feel part of the beautiful natural setting that surrounds them,” Adel said.

The public will get its first official look at RFS during an event on Sunday, Oct. 24.

RFS is built from standard, off-the-shelf lumber that is regionally sourced. Using algorithms developed for this project, robots at Taubman College’s digital fabrication lab processed this standard material and assembled the elements into bespoke timber subassemblies—minimizing construction waste as a result.

Part of the efficiency stems from the robots’ ability to mass-customize prefabricated modules and assembly routines that are difficult through conventional means and methods. This type of fabrication system is a novel approach to reconsidering issues of material use, labor and the environment. By building at full-scale, RFS is able to actively contribute to larger advancement in carbon neutrality and sustainable building practices.

The research team spent more than six months designing and creating Robotically Fabricated Structure at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning before installing it over the course of several weeks at the nearby U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Image credit: Jacob Cofer/University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

The research team spent more than six months designing and creating Robotically Fabricated Structure at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning before installing it over the course of several weeks at the nearby U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Image credit: Jacob Cofer/University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

“We are fully invested in advancing the larger questions of how and why we make, and in discovering and testing new ways of building the future,” Adel said. “Completing RFS enabled research in robotic timber construction to be elevated to the scale and complexities of full and complete building systems beyond the laboratory. As such, this design research is committed to ensuring a structurally sound, accessible and elegant solution.”

The pavilion’s walls and ceiling feature layered, intricate patterns of timber that allow for air flow, as well as shadows and optical effects. The space, which includes seating within or alongside the structure, offers opportunities for exhibitions, small public events and intimate conversations.

“By placing RFS within the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, we are making the public aware of another way that architects and engineers at U-M are investigating sustainability and novel construction methods,” Adel said. “We also want to provoke conversations about appropriate uses of automation and the interaction between human and robotic creative capacities.

“RFS embodies our shifting responsibilities and opportunities within the built world during times of crisis, as well as the ongoing necessity to better support the environment.”

Because of the robots’ ability to mass-customize prefabricated modules and assembly routines, the pavilion is a novel approach to reconsidering issues of material use, labor, and the environment and contributes to larger advancement in carbon neutrality and sustainable building practices. Seen here is the onsite assembly of the prefabricated modules in progress. Image credit: Jacob Cofer/University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Because of the robots’ ability to mass-customize prefabricated modules and assembly routines, the pavilion is a novel approach to reconsidering issues of material use, labor, and the environment and contributes to larger advancement in carbon neutrality and sustainable building practices. Seen here is the onsite assembly of the prefabricated modules in progress. Image credit: Jacob Cofer/University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

The public is invited and encouraged to visit the Robotically Fabricated Structure at U-M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens, located at 1800 North Dixboro Road in Ann Arbor. The public also is invited to an official opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. Oct. 24, which will feature brief remarks by Taubman College Dean Jonathan Massey and Adel.

Project credits:

Principal investigator and project lead: Arash Adel, assistant professor of architecture, ADR Laboratory

Core research, design and fabrication assistants: Ben Lawson, Ryan Craney, Sarah Nail, Gabrielle Clune, Andrew Hoover, Juliette Zidek

Construction assistants: Abdallah Kamhawi, Tharanesh Varadharajan, Elliot Smithberger, Qian Li, Nadim Hajj Ahmad, Joshua Powell, Ivan Gort-Cabeza de Vaca

Students (MS in digital and material technologies): Ruxin Xie, Daniel Ruan, Xinran Li, Jingwen Song, Mehdi Shirvani, Mackenzie Bruce, Chris Humphrey

Industry partner: Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers

Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan

Supported by the Herbert W. and Susan L. Johe Fund