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Photo: Andrei Jipa © Digital Building Technologies (dbt), ETH Zürich

Constructed by Johnny 5

A house in Switzerland shows how digital production techniques could change the future of architecture.
by Anna Moldenhauer | 8/28/2018

Anyone wanting to experience the developments in digital construction technology firsthand should make their way to Switzerland, where ETH Zurich is realizing a fully functional building with digital processes, the DFAB House, on the research platform “NEST” in Dübendorf. “Smart Slab,” a lightweight concrete ceiling spanning 80 square meters, is currently undergoing practical testing here – a global first for full-size, 3D-sand-printed formwork. The advantages compared to conventional concrete slabs are immense: In the experimental construction method material use may be accurately calculated down to the last detail. At the same time, the digitally optimized cement elements are considerably lighter than their analog-made cousins, without this impacting negatively on their load-bearing capacity. The elements have a big plus when it comes to looks, too: The 3D-printing method enables patterns and hollow spaces that would be impossible to achieve using traditional production techniques.

Complex geometries such as the organic ornamental structure of the “Smart Slab” are no longer a question of cost. The 3D-sand-printed formwork is digitally produced in several segments to facilitate transport later on, before being cleaned of residual sand and joined together seamlessly. Timber formwork was produced in parallel using a CNC laser cutter. The two different types of formwork were then joined and spliced together using fiber-reinforced concrete. In the next step, the finished segments may be precisely positioned at the construction site. The “smart ceiling” was devised by an interdisciplinary work group led by architect Benjamin Dillenburger, Assistant Professor for Digital Building Technologies at ETH Zurich. Upon completion, the building is to serve as a demonstrator for researchers at the university.

ETH Zurich / DFAB House