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Earth & Digital

Applying Digital Technologies to Earth

Stephanie Chaltiel

Traditional, Contemporary, Social
Different Scales of experimentation required
Nonstandard/ Non Linear
Series fabrication of modules
Robots and natural materials
Negative/Positive moulds
Re Visiting Wattle and Daub
Re Visiting Rammed Earth Morphologies
Intuition and Counter Intuitive Experiments
Solid, liquid, paste states of the material
Grasshopper, scripting, behaviour simulation and earth
Best geometry according to the type of earth
Vivid Flexible material
Nonstandard ways of assembling a traditional element
Re-Visiting the machines
Output of the research
AA Lyon Visiting Schools (2013-2014 and next ones)
The different partners/Multi-disciplinary team
The pedagogical impact
Re-Visiting the chain of Earth Construction
Building in Remote and poorer areas

Earth & Digital

Applying Digital Technologies to Earth
In 2014 Earth remains the most commonly used building material in the world.
The challenge of introducing earth into contemporary architecture promises to be a
highly exciting adventure.
Understanding the marriage of traditional earth construction and digital prototyping
has the potential to revolutionise both worlds.
Earth construction is the most sustainable material when excavated locally.
Digital prototyping delivers a fast production of non-uniform elements, which we will
explore in terms of formworks for earth construction.
The machines aided by computer can potentially allow the pouring of the material at
the paste state per layer, which we are investigating. This would represent a
significant progress in the field of earth construction without form works.
The fact that computer aided fabrication machines can increasingly be
dismountable, rebuilt on remote sites and local earth materials utilised will be of
particular interest in this research
Earth as an aggregate material like sand enables experimentation at the micro scale
in order to see the effect on larger scale structures.
Finally, as both digital (prototyping/simulations) and earth material are highly
plastic, unpredictable, organic, vivid, surprising, intuitive, well lead a series of
creative experiments on marrying them at different scales and according to
different scenarios.

Traditional, Contemporary, Social

By mixing traditional techniques with new technologies it may allow us to work
with cheaper than average material and not only would it potentially bring new
contemporary aesthetics, but it would also bring important new realms in terms of
low cost quality housing
Different Scales of experimentation required
While doing form finding experiments the results are not scalable. Starting by
experimenting on small structures helps how ever having a first idea of how the
material system would work at a larger scale. Lets take the simple example of
using stretched fabric as formwork for earth wattle and Daub technique: The small
size experiment allows us to check how the mix of earth, sand, fibres and water
would work and adhere to the fabric.
Nonstandard and Non Linear
With the industrial era a lot of the different parts of construction have been
standardised to facilitate the fabrication processes.
Our generation of architects have now the choice to use nonstandard proportions
and modules ways of spraying or depositing materials and mixes since the digital
tools if one knows how to manipulate them can offer an infinite range of variations.
The resulting morphologies show a radical shift from the last generation, but what
will be very interesting in our research is the fact that buildings envelopes can
become efficient locally on their surface.

Series fabrication of modules

With the idea that with very simple material, we can create material systems that
are responsive to external factors to high degree of precision while having an
adapted geometry for each component of the envelope. Prototyping methods allow
for a large number of different modules to be assembled together. It will be of
particular interest considering.
Robots and natural materials
It is getting increasingly interesting to work with flexible and adaptable material
such as soft bamboos, threads. Coupled with robots that can weave, assemble, and
aggregate them with different kind of pressure, different kind of patterns, an
incredible field of actions is open and will be part of our investigation towards the
efficient formworks for earth structures.
One of the main research and test structures we will lead is about the
disappearance of the formwork. The idea is that the robots can directly pour le
earth mixes per layer just as a natural concrete and reach the maximum efficiency
in terms of Fabrication.

Well work on a feedback loop where the physical experiments with earth would
inform what we want to achieve with robots.

Negative/Positive moulds
While evoking earth construction adobe and compressed Blocks of earth are
definitely a major part of it.
Well be interested in this research in associating the computer aided machines to
create moulds that create a wide range of bricks and that could adapt to many new
morphologies that could work more efficiently with the very context of the

Re Visiting Wattle and Daub

Wattle and Daub is a technique that we are willing to explore with different
formworks, lost and removable.
Were particularly interested in fabric formwork as it allows a significant degree of
freedom in terms of geometry and can be easily removed once the shells are solid.
Re Visiting Rammed Earth Morphologies
Rammed earth allows a very high degree of finishing.
The actions of compressing inside a solid formwork mixes of earth with different
sizes grains brings the idea of the robots mimicking what has been done manually
by men so far: sifting the earth, compressing it etc.

Intuition and Counter Intuitive Experiments

Both digital and earth materials are kinetic, lead us towards certain directions
without having an exact conclusion. Its for all those reasons that we will lead a
significant number of intuitive and counter intuitive of experiments creating
material systems. In other words associating and making work together
conventional materials that have never been working together before.
Solid, liquid, paste states of the material
We will be leading a series of experiments mixing different usual materials together
to test the properties of each mix. We will follow on what the engineers from
AMACO are exploring by exploring the material at the micro level. Well use the
results to work with softwares developers and to create more commands
simulating earth behaviour. We will also be able to explore which proportion of
each element (sand mud, clay, natural fibres, milk and so on and so forth are more
likely to be efficient for larger earthen structures.

Grasshopper, scripting, behaviour simulation and earth

We will be going back and forward between physical and digital experiments. We
want to proceed with very meticulous steps to reach maximum efficiency for future
earthen structures. Scripting will allow us to create digital material systems with
associated geometry that would allow us to update the whole model easily while
modifying one of its components. Climatic simulations can also be directly linked
the geometry through Grasshopper for example allowing us to seek the best
geometry locally on the envelope of the construction.
Best geometry according to the type of earth
We will define material systems performances in terms of earth construction as:
maximum span, ratio thickness/stability, easiness of putting the parts together,
and easiness of applying the earth, easiness of removing the formwork, minimum
amount and price for the formwork.
While working with robots directly pouring the earth mix per layer we will be
looking as performative earth mix: best adhesion from one layer to the other, best
smoothness to allow better pouring, easiness of finding the right materials
constituting the mixes.
Vivid Flexible material
We are working with vivid and constantly evolving and adapting to local climate
materials. It is the case for both the earth and the formworks.
While using natural materials with an artificial intelligence were aiming to make
some discoveries along the way.
Our processes are very precise but dont tell us much about the results. For this
reason, the idea is to keep an open mind on the possible discoveries in terms of
materials systems behaviours.
We will therefore work in a scientific way but driven by a degree of intuitive
Nonstandard ways of assembling a traditional element
Our aim is to work with easily available material and minimize the transportation
costs. For this reason the intelligence of the system in which we will make the
different elements act together is of prime importance.
We are also studying the different actions that Kuka robots can achieve or could
potentially achieve in the coming years to orientate the morphology of the earthen
modules we would like to assemble.

Re-Visiting the machines

Computer aided machines such as CNC, laser cutting, 3D printing, robots offer a
wide range of options in terns of rotation movement in x, y, z, and different
articulated arms. All those functions are potentially very interesting for earth

construction. The current state of those machines means that we would need to
modify slightly the machines so that instead of cutting through a block it could
spray, deposit, layer, project etc.
Knowing that we could associate a script allowing different degrees and intensities
of all those actions, the field of possibilities and improvements is endless.

Output of the research

We have started this research on applying digital techniques to earth construction
3 years ago. The participation of the CRATerre Laboratory is very important from
the start theyre one of the world best earth experts. Weve also lead a few intensive
workshops testing structures real size through the Architectural Association
Visiting School at the Grands Ateliers in France.
Each year about 35 participants students and professionals come from more 15
different countries with the common goals of exploring the phenomenal potential of
rethinking natural materials through the marriage of low and high tech in
AA Lyon Visiting Schools (2013-2014 and next ones)
This research is punctuated by a series of intensive workshops happening in both
fabrications laboratories like the Grands Ateliers de lIsle dAbeau in France and
both on site applications on site of the diverse tests realized in the laboratories.
The first AA Visiting School at the Grands Ateliers in 2013: Synchronized
Movements has been about investigating CNC plywood form work, and lycra fabric
to fabricate the thin auto stable earthen shell. The result has been very promising.
The aim is now to refine the geometry of such human scale shells and to minimize
the cost and the energy of the formwork fabrication.
The second AA Visiting School on mud and Digital techniques in 2014: Mud, Body
and Scripts has been about continuing the process on thin earthen shells and
starting exploring the theme of the prefabs in earth.
The different partners/Multi-disciplinary team
December 2011 when we started the research, a significant number of specialists
in both earth, social, sustainable and digital domains have been joining our team
and were working together on a regular basis.

The pedagogical impact

Theres an increasing interest in the new generation of students in architecture in
both sustainable materials and digital Prototyping.
Our aim is to publish and divulgate the outcomes of our research as a free data
and to involve more and more universities r=to be able to lead different sub
researches at the same time.
In this field no one is an expert of marrying earth construction and digital
prototyping for large scale structures as nobody has achieved any significant
progress in this field so far.
We have the right methods and the right team to improve now a days earth
architecture in developed and in development countries.
Re-Visiting the chain of Earth Construction
One of the reasons why the earth material is not employed much still in western
countries despite a high general interest is because building and construction
companies are still reluctant to use a material theyre not used to.
The methods also require some very qualified construction site workers and the
work can be long and tiring. Were in hope that introducing some of the steps being
operated by the computer aided machines would help the introduction of some
highly sustainable techniques of earth.
The more contemporary examples of earth architecture are being introduced, the
more the building industry deciders will be willing to build more and more projects
of this type.

Building in Remote and poorer areas

Computer aided machines being more and easier to transport rather than the
material itself, allows a significant saving in the final cost of the construction.
Were aiming to work on a phasing that allows on a first stage both manual and
computer aided parts of the construction to happen simultaneously to progressively
move to get the computer aided machines to accomplish most of the time
consuming work, and allowing more time to establish more intelligent material

Were working on a publication relating the intensive workshops and how they
contribute to the overall research.
Were planning in different exhibitions in key architecture universities across
Europe, so that our discoveries and progress can be widely shared.
Were working extensively with video to relate the construction phase of the