Drones can “weave structures in space in just a few minutes”

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers: in the second part of our video interview with Ammar Mirjan, the architect explains how he is using drones attached to cable dispensers to quickly build lightweight architectural structures.

Drones can be a valuable new tool in construction, Mirjan claims, “widening the spectrum of what is possible” in architecture.
“We can fly [drones] through and around existing objects, which a person couldn’t do or a crane couldn’t do,” he explains.

Mirjan is part of Gramazio Kohler Research, the ETH Zürich-based research division of Swiss architecture firm Gramazio Kohler Architects. His team’s latest experiments with using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) consist of programming drones to “weave” simple tensile structures in the air.
“We are actually attaching cable dispensers onto the machines and they are weaving structures in space,” he explains. “In just a few minutes you can weave a structure and connect it to existing elements.”

Mirjan and his team’s work, which is being conducted in collaboration with ETH Zürich’s Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, has so far been confined to a laboratory environment. However, he believes it will soon be possible to start building structures with drones in the public realm.
“We are currently working in the lab, but I think something that would be interesting to do in the near future is to build a structure outside,” he says. “For example, to build a temporary structure over a canyon or a river.”

Gramazio Kohler Research’s current work using drones to build tensile structures follows on from an earlier project by Gramazio Kohler Architects and Raffaello D’Andrea, in which UAVs were used to build a tower out of 1,500 polystyrene bricks. Mirjan discusses this project in the first part of our video interview.
“We are pretty much at the beginning of this research,” Mirjan says. “We’re still trying to figure out what construction methods make sense [for the use of drones].”

While drones are unlikely to replace traditional techniques in most cases, Mirjan believes that their unique capabilities will lead to them being used for specific applications in construction.
“They are an interesting tool in design exploration,” he says. “I don’t see [drones] necessarily as something that competes with existing methods; it’s more [about] widening the spectrum of what is possible.”
Ammar Mirjan of Gramazio Kohler Research. Copyright: Dezeen
This movie was filmed in London at the Craft Council’s Make:Shift conference, where Mirjan was a keynote speaker.
The music in the movie is a track called Trash Digital by UK producer 800xL. Additional footage is courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Research and Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, ETH Zürich.
Still photographs used in the story are by Gramazio Kohler Research, unless otherwise stated.
Dezeen and MINI Frontiers is an ongoing collaboration with MINI exploring how design and technology are coming together to shape the future.

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