Robotic serendipity is a method by which unique concrete textures can be designed and made on an architectural scale using craft and robotics.
Robotic serendipity enables architects to determine the appearance of concrete surfaces themselves using unique and custom cardboard panels. Robotics makes it possible to treat large surfaces. The material adds an unpredictable dimension as it reacts in a unique way to the robotic operations. The treatment and performance of the material are transformed, with creativity and innovation, into intriguing, characterful textures with a strong artisanal outlook, on the scale of a complete façade.
It is a poetic project that links the artisanal with the innovative. A robot reproduces or does further work on a manual operation. Craft creeps into a technique where it normally wouldn't. Concrete casting is often very serial. Cardboard and pattern open up many new possibilities, including opportunities for others to experiment further.
The idea arose during my thesis with the R[x]D team, through our shared interest in exploring the overlap between architecture and robotics. While robotics typically focuses on creating identical results, we looked for a way to enrich the process with creativity, unpredictability and human imperfections. The designer reinforces the robot, and the robot reinforces the designer, in an inspiring loop of creation and design. After numerous experiments, we came up with the design of unique concrete textures. I also felt it was extremely important to link this creative process to practice. This initially led to an interesting case study at the architectural firm DMOA and finally to the first fully realised pilot project.
Our project is unique because of the layered fusion of materiality and robotics. We combine human creativity with advanced technology to transform materials. The robot becomes a craft tool that, like a pencil on a grained leaf, helps determine the result. The result is a harmony between human expression, robotic precision and the unpredictability of the material. The power of the design and fabrication process lies in working directly with the materials, while the robot enriches the design process and allows the fabrication of large-scale surfaces. The power of the textures lies in its uniqueness: no tear is repeated. Plus, at the Sint-Annakapel in Dentergem we’re making a personal connection with the environment through hand-engraved drawings that appear like tattoos on the façade and tell more about the rich history of the chapel.
On the one hand, we’re showing how robotics and craft can reinforce each other by combining human creativity and imperfections with the precision and power of robotics. That way, craft becomes possible on an entirely new scale. We’re breaking through the idea that robotics passively delivers identical results and proving that it contributes to groundbreaking and creative innovation in architecture. On the other hand, we’re giving architects the opportunity to design large-scale surfaces. The creative design of the built world results in pleasant and inspiring environments which have a positive impact on the community. It not only stimulates artisanal innovation, but also has a major impact on the social experience of the building.