Hand-Crafted by Machine

Ian Whitby
Foster + Partners,

Prefabrication and Modularization are integral to architectural history – from the pyramids to cathedrals, materials were carefully prepared before installation, requiring precision to fit together at the construction site. The relationships between industry and commercial standards, manufacturing, building economics and the uniqueness of sites is still being explored, even with fifty years of underlying research.

Today both the method and context of prefabrication and modularity have changed – sometimes radically – and they are continually investigated through projects such as the new international Airport in Mexico City. Local industrial fabrication has inspired an investigation of long-span space frame structure, which increases the flexibility of space within the terminal hugely while allowing the envelope and the internal structure of the airport to be constructed together. At the European Space Agency’s Lunar Base, site logistics will be a challenge (such as the transportation of materials to the moon), so the study and understanding of structure and how it might be fabricated using local material has challenged dominant attitudes towards prefabrication and material use. Continuing the theme of constructing dwellings in extremely harsh climates, considerations for Mars Habitation further develops the idea of building with found materials, with the added constraint of distance preventing any additions to the original equipment or materials transported to the site. Large scale 3-D printing borrows concepts from studies about extra-terrestrial climates and applies them to earth-bound projects to question the assumptions of “traditional” prefabrication and modularization.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation