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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12


  1. Amtsberg F, Peters S, Raspall Galli C (2014) Material feedback in robotic production—plastic and elastic formation of materials for reusable mold-making. In: Robotic fabrication in architecture, art and design 2014. Springer, pp 333–345

  2. Amtsberg F, Raspall F, Trummer A (2015) Digital-material feedback in architectural design. In: Proceedings of the CAADRIA Conference, Daegu, South Korea, pp 631–640

  3. Bonwetsch T, Gramazio F, Kohler M (2007) Digitally fabricating non-standardised brick walls. In: ManuBuild, 1st international conference, Rotterdam

  4. Brell-Çokcan S, Braumann J (2013) Industrial robots for design education: robots as open interfaces beyond fabrication. In: International conference on computer-aided architectural design futures. Springer, pp 109–117

  5. Clement K, Lai J, Obuchi Y, Sato J, Lopez D, Charbel H (2018) Emancipating architecture: from fixed systems of control to participatory structures. In: Bier H (ed) Robotic building. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp 53–78. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-70866-9_3

    Google Scholar 

  6. Cohen Z, Carlson N (2020) Piling and pressing: towards a method of 3d printing reinforced concrete columns. Construct Robot. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41693-020-00029-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. De Schutter J, De Laet T, Rutgeerts J, Decré W, Smits R, Aertbeliën E, Claes K, Bruyninckx H (2007) Constraint-based task specification and estimation for sensor-based robot systems in the presence of geometric uncertainty. Int J Robot Res 26(5):433–455

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. DeLanda M (2004) Material complexity. Digit Tecton 14:21

    Google Scholar 

  9. Devadass P, Stumm S, Brell-Cokcan S (2019) Adaptive haptically informed assembly with mobile robots in unstructured environments. In: Proceedings of the 36th international symposium on automation and robotics in construction (ISARC), vol 36. International Association for Automation and Robotics in Construction (IAARC), pp 469–476

  10. Doerfler K, Ernst S, Piškorec L, Willmann J, Helm V, Gramazio F, Kohler M (2014) Remote material deposition. In: International conference. COAC, ETSAB, ETSAV, pp 101–107

  11. Kohler Fabio Gramazio Matthias JW (2014) The robotic touch: how robots change architecture, 3rd edn. Park books, Zurich

    Google Scholar 

  12. Friedman J, KimH, Mesa O (2014) Experiments in additive clay depositions. In: Robotic fabrication in architecture, art and design 2014. Springer, pp 261–272

  13. Gramazio F, Kohler M, Oesterle S (2010) Encoding material. Architect Des 80(4):108–115

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gramazio F, Kohler M, Helm V, Ercan S (2012) In-situ robotic construction. Extending the digital fabrication chain in architecture. ACADIA, pp 169–176

  15. Gürsoy B, Özkar M (2015) Visualizing making: shapes, materials, and actions. Des Stud 41:29–50

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Jabi W (2004) Digital tectonics: the intersection of the physical and the virtual. In: Williamson S, Beesley P, Chang N (eds) Fabrication proceedings: digital fabrications. digital tools, association for computer-aided design in architecture

  17. Janson A, Tigges F (2014) Fundamental concepts of architecture: the vocabulary of spatial situations. Birkhauser, Basel

    Google Scholar 

  18. Johns RL, Kilian A, Foley N (2014) Design approaches through augmented materiality and embodied computation. In: Robotic fabrication in architecture, art and design 2014. Springer, pp 319–332

  19. Kalo A, Newsum MJ (2014) An investigation of robotic incremental sheet metal forming as a method for prototyping parametric architectural skins. In: Robotic fabrication in architecture, art and design 2014. Springer, pp 33–49

  20. Kim J, Takahashi H, Miyashita H, Annett M, Yeh T (2017) Machines as co-designers: A fiction on the future of human-fabrication machine interaction. In: Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 790–805. ACM

  21. Knight T (2018) Craft, performance, and grammars. In: Computational studies on cultural variation and heredity. Springer, pp 205–224

  22. Knight T, Stiny G (2015) Making grammars: from computing with shapes to computing with things. Des Stud 41:8–28

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Llach DC, Bidgoli A, Darbari S (2017) Assisted automation: three learning experiences in architectural robotics. Int J Arch Comput 15(1):87–102

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lublasser E, Braumann J, Goldbach D, Brell-Cokcan S (2016) Robotic forming: rapidly generating 3d forms and structures through incremental forming

  25. Malafouris L (2008) At the potter’s wheel: an argument for material agency. In: Material agency. Springer, pp 19–36

  26. Martins P, Bay N, Skjødt M, Silva M (2008) Theory of single point incremental forming. CIRP Ann 57(1):247–252

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Mason MT (1981) Compliance and force control for computer controlled manipulators. IEEE Trans Syst Man Cybern 11(6):418–432. https://doi.org/10.1109/TSMC.1981.4308708

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. McCullough M (1998) Abstracting craft: the practiced digital hand. MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  29. McNeel: Grasshopper 3D (2007) https://www.rhino3d.com/6/new/grasshopper. Accessed 10 Dec 2019

  30. Menges A, Sheil B, Glynn R, Skavara M (2017) Fabricate 2017: rethinking design and construction. UCL Press, London

    Google Scholar 

  31. Mueller S, Lopes P, Baudisch P (2012) Interactive construction: Interactive fabrication of functional mechanical devices. In: Proceedings of the 25th annual ACM symposium on user interface software and technology, UIST ’12. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, pp 599–606. https://doi.org/10.1145/2380116.2380191

  32. Mueller S, Seufert A, Peng H, Kovacs R, Reuss K, Guimbretière F, Baudisch P (2019) Formfab: Continuous interactive fabrication. In: Proceedings of the thirteenth international conference on tangible, embedded, and embodied interaction, TEI ’19. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, pp 315–323. https://doi.org/10.1145/3294109.3295620

  33. Nahmad Vazquez A, Jabi W (2017) Investigations in robotic-assisted design: strategies for symbiotic agencies in material-directed generative design processes. Int J Arch Comput 15(1):70–86

    Google Scholar 

  34. Nicholas P, Zwierzycki M, Nørgaard EC, Leinweber S, Stasiuk D, Thomsen MR, Hutchinson C (2017) Adaptive robotic fabrication for conditions of material inconsistency: increasing the geometric accuracy of incrementally formed metal panels. In: Fabricate 2017. UCL Press, pp 114–121

  35. Parsons M (2014) Tolerance and customisation: a question of value. Austral Des Rev 2

  36. Peng H, Zoran A, Guimbretière FV (2015) D-coil: a hands-on approach to digital 3d models design. In: Proceedings of the 33rd annual ACM conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, pp 1807–1815

  37. Peng H, Wu R, Marschner S, Guimbretière F (2016) On-the-fly print: incremental printing while modelling. In: Proceedings of the 2016 CHI conference on human factors in computing systems, pp 887–896

  38. Ramsgaard Thomsen M (2019) Radical cross-disciplinarily: laying the foundations for new material practices. Construct Robot 3(1):11–22. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41693-019-00023-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Reinhardt D, Titchkosky N, Bickerton C, Watt R, Wozniak-O’Connor D, Candido C, Cabrera D, Page M, Bohnenberger S (2019) Towards onsite, modular robotic carbon-fibre winding for an integrated ceiling structure. Construct Robot:1–18

  40. Samson C, Le Borgne M, Espiau B (1991) Robot control, the task function approach. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  41. Schutter JD, Brussel HV (1988) Compliant robot motion i. a formalism for specifying compliant motion tasks. Int J Robot Res 7(4):3–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/027836498800700401

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Schutter JD, Brussel HV (1988) Compliant robot motion ii. a control approach based on external control loops. Int J Robot Res 7(4):18–33. https://doi.org/10.1177/027836498800700402

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Sharif S, Gentry R (2015) Design cognition shift from craftsman to digital maker. In: Proceedings of CAADRIA 2015, pp 683–692

  44. Soler V (2020) Robots 0.1.1, a grasshopper plugin for programming abb, kuka, ur and staubli robots. https://github.com/visose/Robots/releases/tag/0.1.1. Accessed 4 June 2020

  45. Stiny G (2006) Shape: talking about seeing and doing. MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  46. Stumm S, Braumann J, von Hilchen M, Brell-Cokcan S (2016) On-site robotic construction assistance for assembly using a-priori knowledge and human-robot collaboration. In: International conference on robotics in Alpe-Adria Danube Region. Springer, pp 583–592

  47. Tokac I, Bruyninckx H, Cannaerts C, Vande Moere A (2019) Material sketching: Towards the digital fabrication of emergent material effects. In: Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, p LBW1413

  48. Veliz Reyes A, Jabi W, Gomaa M, Chatzivasileiadi A, Ahmad L, Wardhana NM (2019) Negotiated matter: a robotic exploration of craft-driven innovation. Arch Sci Rev 62(5):398–408

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Weichel C, Hardy J, Alexander J, Gellersen H (2015) Reform: integrating physical and digital design through bidirectional fabrication. In: Proceedings of the user interface software and technology symposium (UIST’15). ACM, pp 93–102

  50. Willis KD, Xu C, Wu KJ, Levin G, Gross MD (2010) Interactive fabrication: new interfaces for digital fabrication. In: Proceedings of the fifth international conference on tangible, embedded, and embodied interaction, TEI’ 11. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, pp 69–72. https://doi.org/10.1145/1935701.1935716

  51. Zwierzycki M, Nicholas P, Thomsen MR (2018) Localised and learnt applications of machine learning for robotic incremental sheet forming. In: Humanizing digital reality. Springer, pp 373–382

Download references


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.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew Vande Moere.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tokac, I., Philips, J., Bruyninckx, H. et al. Fabrication grammars: bridging design and robotics to control emergent material expressions. Constr Robot 5, 35–48 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41693-021-00053-0

Download citation


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