(re)new(able) materials and circular design and construction processes

Climate change, CO2 emissions and resource scarcity – with the recognition of the Anthropocene, it is evident that the building sector must undergo a profound transformation. As a result, research has embarked on a quest to find real disruptors to current building technologies. In this quest for change, incremental improvements to existing systems are no longer sufficient. What is needed are highly speculative, high-potential approaches that accept and acknowledge failure as a learning process and integral development strategy. Beyond the reporting of our successes, the insights and knowledge gained from aberrations can hold enormous development potential.

Building with less material and impact is an essential part of any design decision, as man-made climate change and resource scarcity are undeniable. Two current trends are attempting to provide an answer: building with renewable resources and reusing existing building components. While timber as a renewable material is already experiencing a significant industrial push, and clay is following suit, new bio-building materials and processes are still in the laboratory. Advanced modelling, simulation and machine learning, augmented reality and robotics are key technologies for industrializing these novel construction processes.  While some experiments have shown potential for scalable solutions, others have demonstrated visual appeal but inadequacy as building systems.

Scaling, both in terms of the transition from laboratory to industry and from industry to grassroots, and from small robots to large robots, has significant implications across different domains. It requires integration not only in terms of practice and technology, but also with communities and individuals. In addition, the concept of scaling raises questions about how circular design challenges traditional notions of resource availability, socio ecological networks and ecosystem services, especially as we scale up. Recent advances in computational methods in Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) have the potential to contribute significantly to the design for disassembly and scalability of building material reuse. Contributions will exemplify how we can model performance-based design, transformation and growth processes to measure and evaluate outcomes.

The Design Modelling Symposium Kassel 2024 focusses on the following four areas:

Area A: Realising Circular Design ↓

Concepts embedded in circular design, such as building adaptation, design for disassembly, and material reclamation, see digital modelling and computation as an essential infrastructure. How can the role of computation in this realm be explored beyond mere asset management? In Area A: Realising Circular Design, we invite therefore papers that reflect on one or more of the following topics:

  • Advanced modelling techniques that integrate circular economy principles into sustainable architecture, product, and systems design. 
  • Optimising the reuse of materials and components, as well as modular and design for disassembly strategies. 
  • Performance-based design driven by multi-criteria optimization will be explored to balance sustainability, cost, functionality and structural behaviour. 
  • Machine learning algorithms play a critical role in predicting material behaviour and resource flows, while learning from experiments and failures to drive iterative improvements. 
  • Novel computational tools help to assess the environmental impact at all stages of the design process through comprehensive Life Cycle Analyses (LCA). 
  • In addition, we invite contributions that evaluate the potential of emerging technologies in circular design, assessing their sustainability, resource efficiency, and innovation impact.
  • investigate structural design and form-finding with a given material stock.

In this subtopic, we aim to highlight how computational tools and digital modelling can advance circular design concepts and play a critical role in improving environmental assessment and innovation. This exploration paves the way for a more sustainable, resource-efficient, and innovative future by catalysing transformative design practices that align circular economy principles with cutting-edge modelling techniques.

Area B: Scaling Digital Concepts ↓

Area B: Scaling Digital Concepts in Construction offers an exploration of the complexities involved in scaling digital concepts in the construction industry. We invite contributions from research and architectural and engineering practice that encompasses one or more of these aspects: 

  • The industrialization of novel, disruptive construction processes and their evolution from theoretical concepts to practical, scalable solutions.
  • Transitioning architecture into Industry 5.0 : addressing the social dimensions of scaling digital concepts, considering their impact on work practices, worker skills, and the socio-economic dynamics of the construction sector. 
  • A critical analysis of failures and problems encountered in the development of digital construction approaches, highlighting lessons learned and opportunities for improvement.  
  • The transition of digital concepts from laboratory experimentation to large-scale industrial adoption, including shifts from small robotic applications to large-scale deployment. 
  • AI-based image and design generation, and its integration into the design and production workflow.
  • The role of resource availability in the successful scaling of digital construction concepts, including physical resources, funding, and technological infrastructure. 
  • Exploration of barriers to the implementation of promising digital construction processes, including technology readiness and regulatory challenges.

By examining the interplay of technological innovation, societal factors, and resource considerations, we seek to address the fundamental question of why certain digital construction processes have not achieved widespread adoption despite their potential. Through critical analysis and interdisciplinary discussion, we aim to pave the way for more effective strategies to bridge the gap between digital innovation and on-site implementation.

Area C: Biomaterial Design ↓

Within the area C: Biomaterial Design, we ask for contributions that delve into the profound impact of innovative materials on the landscape of sustainable design. Contributions to this multifaceted domain can encompass one or more of the following key facets: 

  • The strategic utilisation of renewable resources, such as willow, bamboo, clay, mycelium, and algae, within design processes, highlighting their intrinsic versatility and ecological resonance. 
  • Materials customization and design for growth, where materials are tailored to precise specifications. 
  • Extensive research into material properties, and novel methods of computational material simulations. 
  • Bottom-up design approaches, originating from the inherent characteristics of materials and subsequently informing innovative building design strategies.
  • Speculative material explorations with successful discoveries and failures
  • Develop and characterise biomaterials for their structural capacities.

This subtopic requires highly interdisciplinary workflows between designers, biologists, chemists, roboticists, programmers, and material designers, and therefore seeks to create a platform for them to present ground-breaking research, methodological advances, and pragmatic applications. These contributions collectively advance the frontiers of sustainable and environmentally conscious design practices.

Area D: Digital Construction ↓

Industry 4.0 has introduced the concepts of digitization and automation, signifying the transformation of manual processes into digital ones. While these principles have found success in various industries, the construction sector has exhibited resilience to their adoption. Recent advancements have propelled us from mere „digitization“ to the realm of entirely digitally-driven, novel construction processes that are no longer feasible to execute manually. In this context, we invite submissions that explore one or more of the following topics:

  • Delve into the utilisation of robotics and drones in construction, focusing on their roles in automating and enhancing various aspects of the construction process, from site assessment to building assembly. 
  • Explore the application of augmented reality in the construction industry, examining how it aids in visualisation, design validation, and on-site project management. Investigate the transformative shift from traditional digitization to fully digital construction processes. 
  • Analyse how this transition reshapes project execution and delivery. Examine the use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) in construction, both for creating building components and for on-site construction tasks. 
  • Explore the role of machine learning algorithms in optimising fabrication processes within the construction sector, enhancing efficiency and precision. 
  • Investigate the implementation of kinematic principles and multi-robot systems in construction, assessing their impact on tasks like site logistics, assembly, and maintenance.
  • Critically test the scalability of new technologies for their application in the building industry.

Submissions in this area should shed light on how these emerging technologies are catalysing a profound shift from traditional construction methods to digitally-driven, innovative processes. We invite contributions that elucidate the challenges, opportunities, and transformative potential of these advancements in the construction industry.

The Design Modelling Symposium 2024 welcomes participants to contribute innovative and pioneering projects from both research and practice. The symposium places particular emphasis on material efficiency, renewable resources, biomaterials and the reuse of existing building elements. The event will focus on advanced modelling, simulation and machine learning to explore design methods. In addition, augmented reality, additive manufacturing and robotics will be discussed, particularly in relation to manufacturing processes.

Along this path, sharing knowledge about deviations and obstacles will provide valuable insights to foster more effective collaboration in developing breakthrough solutions that address the challenges of climate change, CO2 emissions and resource scarcity in the building sector.

To enrich these discussions, the symposium welcomes diverse perspectives, including those from the realms of design, art, theory, and technology. By embracing these multidisciplinary viewpoints, the event aims to foster a comprehensive exploration of ideas and approaches towards sustainable design and construction.