Future construction sites could use recycled plastic and combine pre-fabricated elements with tailored on-site work with robots, according to a new paper from the AA School of Architecture. Of course, 3D printing lies at the heart of the plan.

It’s another potential method to streamline construction and to give designers and architects the freedom to create beautiful, organic buildings with new geometric structures.

The lightweight construction material, simple plastic, means that the architects simply won’t have to worry about the structure holding up its own weight.

Speeding up the process

In fact, the team have devised a series of different structures, arches and other shapes that can act as supports for lightweight lattice structures. The team used a 3D printer mounted on a robotic arm to create the structures, which it could make much faster with the help of prefabricated sections.

The Growing Systems concept is theoretical, but it does point to a future where robots collaborate to create complex structures.

Organic buildings are coming

It also suggests that in the future we will combine the designs of adjacent buildings to create organic designs that work together.

The robots could even remove certain structures from one building and use the recycled plastic parts to construct another.

The team, led by Marta Bermejo, Ruxandra Matei, Vladislav Bek-Bulatov and Li Chen are part of the DRL Masters program at the school of architecture. They have produced a fascinating piece of theoretical work, but the practical applications are limited to free flowing architectural forms made from load-bearing geometric shapes.

Is this the way forward?

There is a real market for this work, but at the moment it is well served by traditional techniques and they’ll have to put in an awful lot of work to make this method cost and time effective. Still, it’s an interesting concept and we’re always happy to see the uses that the architects of tomorrow can find for 3D printing.

We do know that additive manufacturing is going to change construction and there is a lot of good work going into using recycled plastic as a building material. There is a vast amount of PET plastic drinks bottles and more filling up the landfills of the world right now and we need to find a way to recycle this material economically.

Construction moving at record pace

We also have a global shortage of housing and construction is moving at breakneck speed. So it makes sense to combine the two and find a way to use plastic to build the houses and offices of tomorrow.

This new technique might not be the ultimate answer, but it is at least one way that we can use plastics and it’s a novel way to look at architectural design. The next generation, then, could cherry pick the best parts of this concept and combine them with other, more commercially viable, construction techniques.

The industry has taken to 3D printing and the majority have opted for a single printer head mounted on a robotic arm. In China, Huasheng Tengda built a villa in just 45 days with this technique and now other research teams want to go even faster.

Big and small robots could be the answer

Prefabrication is one technique, but that means that transport is still part of the equation.

The minibuilders, an army of small robots produced by the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, took another approach. These small printers effectively climb the walls as they print them, so they don’t need a large support structure and can be taken anywhere in the world.

The final answer, then, could combine a variety of different techniques to bring the build time for a house down to just days. If that is the case, then there will be time for neat, organic structures that give the house a finishing flourish.