image: Gramazio & Kohler, ETH Zurich
Pike Loop, a 22m-long wall at the corner of Pike and Division streets in lower Manhattan, was built on site by a robot called R-O-B, heralding a new era for brick construction The curving wall, which lifts off the ground in places, consists of 7,000 bricks that have been laid in an intertwining pattern over a period of 30 days.
The project was made for Storefront for Art and Architecture by the Swiss architects Gramazio & Kohler. The architects were working with their research unit at ETH Zurich, which explores the concept of digital materiality – how computer programming affects the physical outcome of architecture. The robot was pre-programmed and built the entire structure, sealing the bricks with industrial glue. “It’s about the discrete unit, it’s about the pixel, it’s about manipulation and it has a lot of parallels to programming graphics in the eighties,” says Fabio Gramazio.
He thinks that the programming of robots is not used to its full potential at the moment. “It’s still used for repetitive jobs and architecture is not about repetition,” says Gramazio. “Industrialisation has generated an aesthetic of industry but as soon as the means or the logic of production do not imply repetition any more, the modern aesthetic doesn’t make any sense.”
The fact that Pike Loop curves and lifts off the ground is a major breakthrough for brick building as it would be difficult to create the same structure by hand. Gramazio & Kohler is already developing the technique for larger scale construction – it tested the method on the facade of the Gantenbein Vineyard in Switzerland and will use it in the next 18 months for a new housing project in Zurich. “There is a lot of potential and interest because of this contrast between the digital logic of the programming and this archaic and trusted material,” says Kohler.