Robots can transform Chinese architecture

Written by CNN staffShanghai, China

This story is part of "Intelligent Creativity", a series that explores the intersection between high-design and advanced technology.

In the midst of rising population and unprecedented urbanization, China's rise has been made possible by its ability to build fast and cheaply. However, meeting the country's structural requirements has been at the expense of architectural identity, according to Philip Yuan, founder of Archi-Union Architects.

"It's a kind of copying and pasting the process," Yuan says about the repeated, irregular buildings found in China's cities. "It is sad, because we build very fast, we lose the tradition and the identity of what China should be."

Instead of producing more blocks of cookie tower towers, the Chinese architect explores experimental new approaches to construction. Its techniques, which include the use of digital construction and robotics, could offer a new way to produce sophisticated buildings at shorter intervals.

Robots can transform Chinese architecture

Take, for example, "In Bamboo," a wooden booth was designed in collaboration with bamboo carpenters in Daoming, Sichuan Province. The design of the project is not only architecturally distinctive but also extremely complicated – and made possible only by state-of-the-art technology.

Using computational algorithm-based design and a pair of robotic arms by "cutting a man's two hands", the number of eight modular buildings was completed in just 52 days. According to yuan estimates, it would take six to twelve months in China or up to two years in the West, traditional methods of construction were used.

"Each column and each beam has a specific angle and a different height," explains Yuan. "If you use your hand, it is impossible to do so in such a short time because each joint is different".

The project suggests the concept of "digital tectonics," a phrase used by Archi-Union to express this new kind of collaboration between human designers and engineers. This term balances technologies and global methodologies with traditional cultures and local manufacturing techniques.

For "In Bamboo" separate panels and sections were made out of space using local materials such as lumber, tile and bamboo. They were then transported and assembled at the site, helping to reduce the cost of waste and energy.

"Bamboo" is a showroom and cultural center in Daiming, Sichuan Province. Credit: Li Han

In the case of another Archi-Union project, Chi She Gallery in Shanghai, a robotic arm was used to place a complicated, wavy brick facade in a level of precision that can not be achieved by humans.

"Although the material (brick) is traditional, we can organize it into something new," says Yuan of the abstract design geometry. "It is a collaboration between man and machine, I can teach robotics and put it precisely".

Watch the video above for more information about Archi-Union Architects.