Thursday, November 05, 2009

Automated Means and Methods

In the first decade of the twentieth century Henry Ford implemented a developing technology (the assembly line) to construct his Model T in a more efficient and cost effective manner. This newly perfected method of production made the Model T more readily available to a broader consumer base and made the Ford Motor Company an American industrial stalwart. The development of the assembly line was soon adopted by countless industries and lead to America’s prosperity in the twentieth century. In 1961, a mere 50 years after Ford implemented the assembly line, the first robot replaced a human in the manufacturing process. The Unimate was used by GM to transport die castings and weld them to car bodies.

History tells us, then, that it is only a matter of time until a robot replaces a human on the construction site as well. That time may have been marked by the development and implementation of R-O-B at the 2008 architectural biennial in Venice. R-O-B is a fabrication robot developed by the Swiss architecture firm of Gramazin & Kohler in conjunction with the ETH Zurich Faculty of Architecture. It uses a robotic arm to translate a digital model (designed by Gramazin & Kohler) into a full scale in situ fabrication. R-O-B’s latest creation is Pike Loop, which is located on a traffic island on Pike Street in Manhattan. Pike Loop is an infinite ribbon of brick that winds in and out of itself and around obstructions such as light posts and benches. In this it mimics and plays off the traffic congestion that whirls around the island on which it sits. As you move around Pike Loop the varying density of the brick pattern opens and closes fragmented views of the city. Pike Loop pixelizes the city and creates moments that are dependent on the speed at which you walk along it. It is a poignant commentary on the mechanization of cities. Sometimes we benefit from this mechanization, other times we are rendered obsolete by it, yet we control it.

Click here to view R-O-B in action.

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