Tailored Structures, Robotic Sewing of Wooden Shells

Conference paper


This paper investigates the use of robotics with sensing mechanisms in combination with industrial sewing techniques to explore new strategies for the fabrication of thin wooden shells.

The investigation is characterized by a parallel theoretical and prototype-based methodology, the latter serving as a vehicle to further the technical development, which could ultimately enable novel architectural qualities.

The development unfolds in four interdependent avenues: (1) The transfer of textile patterning techniques used in garment production to inform the design of flexible 3 mm beech plywood segments; (2) The capacity of wood to be elastically bent and connected into geometrically stable structures; (3) the use of sewing as a new construction joint for thin material; and (4) The integration of sewing into an automated and adaptive robotic fabrication workflow enabled by sensing and scanning with the capacity to join complex three-dimensional curved structures at an architectural scale.


Wood Timber construction Robotic sewing Adaptive robotics Sensing Textile techniques 



Demonstrator A was developed and constructed within the ITECH MSc programme by the first authors. Demonstrator B – 2017 was supported by the Sino-German Center for Research Promotion project (GZ 1162) where the where the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (University of Stuttgart) and the Digital Design Research Center (Tongji University) act as co-principal investigators. Additionally, it was exhibited as part of the inaugural exhibition ‘Mind the digital’ at the Design Society Museum, Shenzhen, China.


  1. Dörfler, K., Sandy, T., Giftthaler, M., Gramazio, F., Kohler, M., Buchli, J.: Mobile Robotic Brickwork. Robot. Fabr. Archit. Art Des. 2016, 204–217 (2016). Scholar
  2. Bechert, S., Knippers, J., Krieg, O., Menges, A., Schwinn, T., Sonntag, D.: Textile fabrication techniques for timber shells: elastic bending of custom-laminated veneer for segmented shell construction systems. In: Adriaenssens, S., Gramazio, F., Kohler, M., Menges, A., Pauly, M. (eds.) Advances in Architectural Geometry 2016, pp. 154–169. vdf Hochschulverlag AG ETH Zurich, Zurich (2016). ISBN 978-3-7281-3778-4Google Scholar
  3. Fleischmann, M., Knippers, J., Lienhard, J., Menges, A., Schleicher, S.: Material behaviour: embedding physical properties in computational design processes. In: Architectural Design, vol. 82 no. 2, pp. 44–51. Wiley Academy, London (2012). ISBN 978 0470973301Google Scholar
  4. Fuller, R.B., Marks, R.W.: Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller. Anchor Books, New York (1973)Google Scholar
  5. Eames, C., Herman Miller Furniture Company: Patent US2548470 - Laminated Splint. US (1946)Google Scholar
  6. Hudert, M.: Structural timber fabric: applying textile principles in building scale. Ph.D. thesis, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne (2012)Google Scholar
  7. KUKA Roboter GmbH: KMR QUANTEC. Mobile robotics for the precision machining of XXL components. Accessed 28 July 2018
  8. The Economist: Made to Measure, a robotic sewing machine could throw garment workers in low-cost countries out of a job. The Economist (2015).
  9. Nakamichi, T.: Pattern Magic, 1st edn. Laurence King Publishing, London (2010)Google Scholar
  10. Schwinn, T., Krieg, O., Menges, A.: Robotic sewing: a textile approach towards the computational design and fabrication of lightweight timber shells, in posthuman frontiers: data, designers, and cognitive machines. In: Proceedings of the 36th Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), Ann Arbor, pp. 224–233 (2016)Google Scholar
  11. Stevens, W.C.: Wood Bending Handbook, p. 96. Fox Chapel Publishing Company, East Petersburg (2007)Google Scholar
  12. Vasey, L., Baharlou, E., Dörstelmann, M., Koslowski, V., Prado, M., Schieber, G., Menges, A., Knippers, J.: Behavioral design and adaptive robotic fabrication of a fiber composite compression shell with pneumatic formwork. In: Combs, L., Perry, C. (eds.) Computational Ecologies: Design in the Anthropocene, Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, pp. 297–309 (2015). ISBN 978-0-69253-726-8Google Scholar
  13. Wolff, C.: The Art of Manipulating Fabric, 2nd edn. Chilton Book Co., Baltimore (1996)Google Scholar
  14. Menges, A.: The new cyber-physical making in architecture: computational construction. Architectural Des. 85(5), 28–33 (2015). Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of StuttgartStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Tongji UniversityShanghaiChina

Personalised recommendations