Robotic Landscapes: Designing Formation Processes for Large Scale Autonomous Earth Moving

  • Ilmar HurkxkensEmail author
  • Ammar Mirjan
  • Fabio Gramazio
  • Mathias Kohler
  • Christophe Girot
Conference paper


The technological advances in robotic construction equipment for large scale earth moving is revolutionizing how we think and act on terrain. With the development of HEAP, a full scale autonomous walking excavator by the Robotic Systems Lab of Professor Marco Hutter within the NCCR Digital Fabrication ETH Zurich [1], we will be able to shape large-scale natural granular material like sand, soil and gravel with unprecedented geometrical complexity according to a precise digital blueprint. The robotic platform enables feedback loops between the physical reality, the existing terrain and the proposed computational design, creating new potential for dynamic landscapes that can change over time. The ability to search, recognize and manipulate locally found materials allows us to rethink the design of the built environment to be economically and environmentally regenerative. In order to explore new applications and design methods for autonomous earth moving, a series of design studio has been implemented at the ETH Zurich as a collaboration between Professor Christophe Girot Chair of Landscape Architecture and Gramazio Kohler Research Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication. This article discusses the developed methods and techniques, as well as the experimental implementation within these studios. Rather than focusing on designing with explicit shapes or geometry, the students were encouraged to explore the making of form through a procedural understanding of robotic movements, computational design and granular material interaction.


Digital Fabrication Autonomous excavation Large-scale landscape design Robotic aggregation Granular material 



The two ‘Robotic Landscapes’ design studios were developed and carried out as a collaboration between the Chair of Landscape Architecture of Professor Christophe Girot (studio lead: Ilmar Hurkxkens, assistants Fujan Fahmi and Benedikt Kowalewski) and the Chair of Architecture and Digital Fabrication of Professors Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler (assistants Ammar Mirjan and Jesús Medina Ibáñez) at the Department of Architecture ETH Zurich. The studios are supported by the research program ‘Construction Robotics’ of the NCCR Digital Fabrication funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The authors would like to thank the students of the first and second Robotic Landscapes design studio for their beautiful work.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ilmar Hurkxkens
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ammar Mirjan
    • 2
  • Fabio Gramazio
    • 2
  • Mathias Kohler
    • 2
  • Christophe Girot
    • 1
  1. 1.Chair of Landscape ArchitectureETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Gramazio Kohler Research, Chair of Architecture and Digital FabricationETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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