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Additive Tectonics
Fall 2022
University of Virginia
ARCH 4010-11 / ALAR 8010: Research Studio
Ehsan Baharlou, Dr.-Ing.

Additive Tectonics

“When a structural concept has found its implementation through construction, the visual result will affect us through certain expressive qualities which clearly have something to do with the play of forces and corresponding arrangement of parts in the building, yet cannot be described in terms of construction and structure alone. For these qualities, which are expressive of a relation of form to force, the term tectonic should be reserved.”

— Eduard F. Sekler (1960), “Structure, Construction, Tectonics”, in Structure in Art and in Science.


Advances in computational design methods and fabrication techniques provide new possibilities for architectural designers to consider different paradigms for design and making. These paradigms emphasize the relationship between formation and materialization. Through robotic additive manufacturing, designers can construct buildings or building elements quickly.

The studio “Additive Tectonics” explored the tectonic expression of additive manufacturing in different architectural contexts, from constructing affordable housing with earth materials to investigating the construction of settlements on other planets. The studio focused on the exploration of such architectural tectonics as an abstracted skin or wall system; a tower or a column as a structural element; a vault or a shell as a roof system; a hut or a shed; or other, new building tectonics. One-to-one structures were designed for the North Terrace at the University of Virginia’s Campbell Hall.

Students explored additive tectonics through three stages. The material system development stage demonstrated various materials—such as bio-based, bio-degradable, or bioplastic materials—and their properties and limitations in additive manufacturing. In computational design development, students considered the material properties and fabrication constraints in prototyping. Finally, robotic additive construction—which can be defined as abstraction, formation, rationalization, and materialization to explore novel tectonics—enabled students to execute their design prototype to examine their design’s tectonic potential in building an architectural element.

A series of integrative workshops supported this studio. Formation workshops introduced Grasshopper as a CAD software that can be used for form generation.  Materialization workshops presented students with a numerical-based fabrication process. Students learned to control an industrial robotic arm and 3D-print tectonic prototypes.

Image Credit

E. Baharlou, University of Virginia, 2021.