How to Build a House: Architectural Research in the Digital Age

Thu, Sep 12, 2019 6:30pm - Sun, Oct 13, 2019 7pm

Add to Calendar

DFAB HOUSE on the NEST building, Switzerland, 2019. Photo by Roman Keller
DFAB HOUSE on the NEST building, Switzerland, 2019. Photo by Roman Keller

Panel Discussion and Opening Reception
Architectural Research in the Digital Age

Thursday, September 12, 2019 at 6:30pm
Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, 41 Cooper Square

Reception to Follow in the 41 Cooper Gallery

A new exhibition showcases the conception and making of the DFAB HOUSE, the world's first fully inhabited building to have been digitally planned and largely built with the help of robots and 3D printers. How to Build a House: Architectural Research in the Digital Age is presented by The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture and swissnex, the Swiss global network connecting the dots in education, research, and innovation.

How to Build a House is a visual journey through research on the digital transformation of architecture and construction. It reveals the genesis of a three-story experimental building in Switzerland. This house results from pioneering works in computational design and digital fabrication by architects and experts in fields ranging from robotics to materials science at ETH Zurich, a leading Swiss institute of technology.

Through the NCCR Digital Fabrication, a Swiss National Science Foundation program, seven research groups created the DFAB HOUSE using robots from the labs of ETH Zurich. Their approach makes planning and construction more efficient, but also more sustainable. For example, the digitally planned floor slab is optimized so that considerable amounts of material can be saved compared to a conventional concrete slab. This is significant, as cement production currently represents an estimated 8% of the global amount of CO2 emissions.

The exhibit is an entry point into understanding the digital as a novel domain for architects to draw from at each step of the design, fabrication, and assembly of a building. Photographs and videos of the fabrication process along with several 1:1 scale prototypes such as a mullion (a window frame) made through a digitally controlled casting process will be on view. Additionally, exhibition attendees will have an opportunity to experience the fabrication process through a virtual reality component in the gallery. 

Although driven by technology, the impact of research in How to Build a House goes far beyond automation and optimization. As a new paradigm, the computational in architecture provides answers to changing societal needs and ecological challenges, while reforming aesthetic principles and establishing a new sense of beauty in architecture.

How to Build a House: Architectural Research in the Digital Age was curated by Hannes Mayer and Sarah Schneider of Gramazio Kohler Research and was originally produced by swissnex San Francisco and premiered at the swissnex Gallery in the Spring of 2019. It was coordinated at The Cooper Union by Steven Hilyer, Director, The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive. The exhibition is supported by NCCR Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich, swissnex, and the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York, and is presented in association with Archtober, Architecture and Design Month New York City, October 2019.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a panel discussion – Architectural Research in the Digital Age – will take place in Cooper Union’s Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, and will include Benjamin Dillenburger, Fabio Gramazio, Matthias Kohler, Hannes Mayer, Mania Aghaei Meibodi, Jenny Sabin, Skylar Tibbits, and Dean Nader Tehrani.

Gallery Hours
Tuesday – Friday 2pm-7pm, Saturday and Sunday 12pm-7pm

Exhibition Partners

View the full Fall 2019 Lectures and Events List.

Located in the 41 Cooper Gallery, located in 41 Cooper Square, on Third Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.