Fabrication grammars: bridging design and robotics to control emergent material expressions


Designers physically engage with a material to experience how certain characteristics allow the fabrication of unique expressions. In digital fabrication, however, this improvisational negotiation is typically replaced by a virtual simulation that predicts how a material expression can be fabricated, limiting the resulting design language to algorithmic forms. In contrast, we believe that digital fabrication can also produce ‘emergent’ material expressions that are so confounded that they appear slightly differently even when being produced by identical operations. This paper argues that such expressions can be executed by a domain-driven feedback paradigm, which integrates a human-in-the-loop to encode the tacit fabrication knowledge that is generated by reviewing intermediate outcomes. We encode this tacit knowledge by fabrication grammars, rule-based descriptions that causally relate fabrication parameters to qualitative descriptions of material expressions. By documenting a set of Single Point Incremental Forming experiments, this paper demonstrates how emergent material expressions can be controlled by semantically meaningful fabrication grammars, which even can be combined towards purposeful design goals. We believe our findings might allow the digital fabrication of material expressions that appear to have been produced manually or naturally; and support the future sharing of tacit fabrication knowledge.

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The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the KU Leuven Internal Funds C2/2017 (BOF) grant entitled Towards Interactive Robotic Architecture Design and Fabrication.

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Tokac, I., Philips, J., Bruyninckx, H. et al. Fabrication grammars: bridging design and robotics to control emergent material expressions. Constr Robot (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41693-021-00053-0

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  • Digital fabrication
  • Computational fabrication
  • Human–robot interaction
  • Design thinking
  • Emergence
  • Materiality
  • Material-driven design