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 drones with cable dispensers attached can be used to quickly build lightweight architectural structures.

Aerial Constructions by Gramazio Kohler Research

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.

Aerial Constructions by Gramazio Kohler Research

Mirjan is part of Gramazio Kohler Research, the ETH Zürich-based research division of Swiss architecture firm Gramazio Kohler Architects.

Together with roboticist Raffaello D'Andrea's research group at ETH Zürich's Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, Gramazio Kohler Research is investigating how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be programmed 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."

Aerial Constructions by Gramazio Kohler Research

The experiments have so far been confined to a laboratory environment. However, Mirjan 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."

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 at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France. Mirjan discusses this project in the first part of our video interview (above).

"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]."

Aerial Constructions by Gramazio Kohler Research

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
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 and still photography is courtesy of Gramazio Kohler Research and Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, ETH Zürich. Footage and photographs were shot in the Flying Machine Arena (FMA), where the project is being carried out. More information about the project can be found here and here.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers is an ongoing collaboration with MINI exploring how design and technology are coming together to shape the future.

Dezeen and MINI Frontiers