Shaping Sand – Heuristic Interactive Modelling


The purpose of this workshop is to explore the potentials of human-machine interaction in a cooperative learning environment for artists, architects and structural designers. In order to use computational and manual design processes creatively for artistic, architectural and engineering processes and / or link them with tacit material information and human experience about design processes and  their implementation, a test environment is proposed, in which basic solutions can be  designed and evaluated, combining the implicit knowledge of human action with automated precision in a heuristic process. The immediacy of the experience of working with granular materials as a malleable substance is used to create a variety of experiments in which the scope of human action and its interconnections between virtual and actual spaces can be explored and reflected.

In this workshop, the participants will be introduced to the research topic of  sand-forming methods for thin-walled architectural components, which, through the use of computational processes and an industrial robot, enable a greater variety in the design process and precision in fabrication. The development of high-performance materials makes ultra-thin concrete building elements with functional integration and more expressive design languages possible. However, there is still a lack of efficient and sustainable formwork methods that allow for an economical production of these elements, as the production of the necessary complex formwork with conventional materials is connected to a large amount of waste and a high planning and construction effort. By forming a sand bed by hand and machine tools, our aim is to produce molds for material-efficient, filigree architectural components. Our aim is to identify tools for subtracting sand, that are suitable for the process. The properties of sands for use as molding material and a direct mold production shall be investigated experimentally and relevant robotic process parameters should be determined.

Prerequisite skills and knowledge of participants

The workshop is explicitly directed towards an interdisciplinary group of 10-20 participants from art, architecture and engineering. Ideally the different disciplines collaborate in individual groups. No specific tooling knowledge is required, except for a general spatial and constructive imagination in the respective fields, as well as curiosity and commitment. More specific skills in Programming, robotics and a basic knowledge about materials as well as planning and manufacturing processes are desirable among some of the participants.

Tentative Programme

The 2-day workshop should primarily be a stimulus for participants to explore and discuss the application of an interactive modeling environment. A general introduction into heuristic strategies will be given in an introductory lecture which will be followed by a brainstorming session among the participant, promoting the development of new and surprising application concepts for the given setup. The discussions here will focus on the individual participants’ roles as designers and the degrees of freedom which can be achieved.

The proposed concepts will be evaluated for feasibility in the given time and a selection of 3-4 group projects will be made. The practical part of the workshop will oscillate between software inputs, further discussions and practical experiments with the proposed sandbox setup, creating digital and/or physical prototypes from sand and concrete. Through manual experiments, the workshop initially focuses on finding the proper manipulation technique to achieve the desirable design outcome.

Day 1

  • Lecture: heuristic strategies and introduction to the setup
  • Brainstorming session, choice of groups and projects
  • Practical experiments with the sandbox: Shaping, Tool making, Scanning, Robotic Setup

Day 2

  • Critical Reflection of first results, Choice of 3-4 final case studies
  •  Further work on case studies – Manual and robotic sand forming and Concrete casting
  •  Presentation and discussion

Workshop Leaders

Sven Pfeiffer, UdK Berlin

Sven Pfeiffer has been a visiting professor for Digital and Experimental Design at the University of the Arts in Berlin since January 2018. His focus in research and teaching lies in the potential of digitally based and generative design and manufacturing methods in architecture, design and art. Pfeiffer studied architecture in Hamburg, Miami and Frankfurt. Before founding his own architecture studio in 2010, he worked for a variety of architecture and art practices, including Eisenman Architects, NOX Architects and Olafur Eliasson. He was guest professor at the Department of Digital Design and Construction at msa | münster school of architecture and head of the Department of Digital Architecture Production at the TU Berlin. Since 2017, Pfeiffer is researcher in the BMBF research project BauProAddi on additive manufacturing in construction and a member of ak: ai (Arbeitskreis Architekturinformatik). Pfeiffer has organised and led a variety of workshops addressing human agency in digital design and fabrication processes, including the current installation „Printed Tower“ at the Futurium in Berlin.

Norbert Enneking, Freelance

Norbert Enneking is a German architect and civil engineer who lives and works in Berlin and maintains his own office for structural design in Berlin since 2001. His focus in research and teaching lies in the development and application of planning, construction and production (craft) methods in design, architecture and construction, as a defining design framework for our built environment. As part of his Ph.D., he developed a moulding sand formwork system and since 2012 has been researching the possibilities of designing and manufacturing geometrically complex formwork elements and freely formed building structures – specifically for concrete construction – using sand as a basis (based on manual and automated production methods). Enneking studied Fine Arts at the Art Academy Dusseldorf and architecture and civil engineering at the TU Berlin and University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. During his studies, he also taught carpentry and participated in various construction and development projects in Bosnia Herzegovina and Mexico. 2009 – 2017 he worked as a research assistant in the departments of architecture and civil engineering at the TU Braunschweig and TU Kaiserslautern. He has organised and led various practice workshops and design projects with architecture and civil engineering students and has worked on various other research projects. With his planning office, Enneking supports building projects in development work and artists in the constructive implementation of their work.