Aggregate Architectures
Development of an architectural material system consisting of granulates using analogue and digital computational models

Aggregates are defined as large amounts of elements being in loose contact. In architecture they are mainly known as an additive in concrete construction. However, relatively few architectural examples deliberately deploy aggregates in their unbound form as an architectural material system in their own right. The rare precedents range from vernacular architectures, building physics and geo-engineering to recent experimentation in form-finding with designed aggregates

The aim of this research project is to develop a practical, methodological and theoretical understanding of the architectural implications that aggregates in their unbound form can develop. Architectural systems commonly seek to form a clearly defined assembly of elements, where each part has a specific location and connections assigned that are defined and planned by the designing architect. An aggregate system however consists of a loose arrangement of elements, where each part finds its own place and it is the task of the designer to observe and interact with the systems behaviour. One of the most decisive distinctions lies in the way information on those granular architectural systems is being generated, processed and integrated into the design process. Several mathematical methods, such as the Discrete Element Method (DEM) have been developed to numerically model granular behaviour. However, the need and also the potential of using so-called material computation is specifically relevant with aggregates, as much of their behaviour is still not being described in these mathematical models and information can only be gathered through observation of a physical granular system. The potential and the relevance of aggregate architectures lie in their ability to continuously adjust to system-external and system-internal parameters and to establish functional gradation on a macro-level. Thus the investigation of potential architectural applications is both a relevant and unexplored branch of design research.

The project ‘Aggregate Structure’ has been recognized with the Holcim Acknowledgement Award Europe 2014: link to the Holcim Foundation



ICD Institute for Computational Design and Construction – Prof. Achim Menges

Scientific Development

Karola Dierichs

Cooperation Partners

Institute for Multiscale Simulation
, Center of Excellence, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg – Prof. Dr. Thorsten Pöschel

Jaeger LAB , University of Chicago – Prof. Dr. H.M. Jaeger

Behringer Group , Duke University – Prof. Dr. R.P. Behringer

ITASCA Consulting Group , Inc. – Dr. S. Emam, Dr. L. te Kamp, Dr. M Purvance, Dr. R. Taghavi

Institute of Engineering and Computational Mechanics – Prof. P. Eberhard
F. Fleissner, S. Stuehler

Institute of Engineering Geodesy – Prof. V. Schwieger
A. Scheider

Research Assistants

Christian Arias, Miguel Aflalo, Martin Alvarez, Elaine Bonavia, Giulio Brugnaro, Federico Forestiero, Pedro Giachini, Matthias Helmreich, Shir Katz, Ondrej Kyjanek, Martin Loucka, Alexandre Mballa-Ekobena, Christine Rosemann, Jasmin Sadegh, Emily Scoones, Alexander Wolkow, Leyla Yunis


Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction
ITASCA Consulting Group, Inc.


Educational Projects

Aggregate Architectures ITECH Master Thesis 2nd Year – Project 1
Aggregate Architectures ITECH Master Thesis 2nd Year – Project 2
Aggregate Architectures ITECH Master Thesis 2nd Year – Project 3
Aggregate Architectures ITECH Master Thesis 2nd Year – Project 4
Aggregate Architectures ITECH Master Thesis 2nd Year – Project 5
Aggregate Architectures ITECH Master Thesis 2nd Year – Project 6
Robotic Aggregations
Informed Matter – Aggregate Structure
Material Computation – Aggregate Architectures

Research Buildings / Prototypes

ICD Aggregate Wall 2017

ICD Aggregate Pavilion 2015

Informed Matter – Aggregate Structure 2013


Selected Publications

Dierichs, K., Wood, D., Correa, D., Menges, A.: 2017, Smart Granular Materials: Prototypes for Hygroscopically Actuated Shape-Changing Particles, in ACADIA – Disciplines & Disruption [Proceedings of the ACADIA Conference 2017], Cambridge, MA, pp. 222-231.

Dierichs, K. and Menges, A: 2017, Granular Construction: Designed Particles for Macro-Scale Architectural Structures. Archit. Design, 87, pp. 88–93. doi:10.1002/ad.2200.

Rusenova, G., Dierichs, K., Baharlou E., Menges, A.: 2016, Feedback- and Data-driven Design for Aggregate Architectures: Analyses of Data Collections for Physical and Numerical Prototypes of Designed Granular Materials, in Posthuman Frontiers: Data, Designers, and Cognitive Machines, Proceedings of the 36th Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), Ann Arbor, pp.62-72.

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2016, Towards an Aggregate Architecture: Designed Granular Systems as Programmable Matter in Architecture, Granular Matter, 18 (25), DOI: 10.1007/s10035-016-0631-3.

Zhao, Y., Liu, K., Zheng, M., Bares, J., Dierichs, K., Menges, A., Behringer, R.P.: 2016, Packings of 3D Stars: Stability and Structure, Granular Matter, 18 (24), DOI: 10.1007/s10035-016-0606-4.

Dierichs, K., Angelova, D., Menges, A.: 2015, Modelling Aggregate Behaviour, in Ramsgaard Thomsen, M., Tamke, M., Gengnagel, C., Faircloth, B., Scheurer, F. (eds.): 2015 Modelling Behaviour – Proceedings of the Design Modelling Symposium Copenhagen 2015, Copenhagen, Denmark, pp. 5-15.

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2015, Non-convex Designed Aggregates as Architectural Material Systems, in Proceedings of the Particle Simulations Conference 2015, Erlangen, pp. 96-97.

Topic, N., Pöschel, T., Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2015, Packings of Complex Shaped Particles in Cylinders, in Proceedings of the Particle Simulations Conference 2015, Erlangen, pp. 53-94.

Angelova, D., Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2015, Graded Light in Aggregate Structures – Modelling the Daylight in Designed Granular Systems Using Online Controlled Robotic Processes, in Martens, B., Wurzer, G., Grasl, T. Lorenz, W., Schaffranek, R. (eds.), Real Time – Proceedings of the 33rd eCAADe Conference – Volume 2, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria, 16-18 September 2015, pp. 399-406.

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2015, Granular Morphologies – Programming Material Behaviour with Designed Aggregates, Architectural Design, Vol. 85 No. 5, Wiley, London, pp. 86-91. (ISBN 978-11118878378; DOI: 10.1002/ad.1959)

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2015, Simulation of Aggregate Structures in Architecture: Distinct-Elelement Modeling of Synthetic Non-Convex Granulates, in Block, P., Knippers, J., Mitra, N., Wang, W. (eds.), Advances in Architectural Geometry 2014, pp. 1-13. (DOI: 0.1007/978-3-319-11418-7_1, Print ISBN: 978-3-319-11417-0, Online ISBN: 978-3-319-11418-7)

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2013, Aggregate Architecture: Simulation Models for Synthetic Non-convex Granulates, in: Beesley, P., Khan, O., Stacey, M. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) – Adaptive Architecture, Waterloo/Buffalo/Nottingham, pp. 301-310. (ISBN 978-1-926724-22-5)

Dierichs, K., Schwinn, T., Menges, A.: 2012, Robotic Pouring of Aggregate Structures – Responsive Motion Planning Strategies for Online Robot Control of Granular Pouring Processes with Synthetic Macro-Scale Particles, in Brell-Cokcan, S., Braumann, J. (Eds.), Robotic Fabrication in Architecture, Art and Design, Proceedings of the Robots in Architecture Conference 2012, TU Vienna, pp. 196-205. (ISBN 978-3709114643)

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2012, Functionally Graded Aggregate Structures: Digital Additive Manufacturing with Designed Granulates, in Cabrinha, M., Johnson, J., Steinfeld, K. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), San Francisco, pp. 295-304. (ISBN 978-1-62407-267-3)

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2012, Material and Machine Computation of Designed Granular Matter: Rigid-Body Dynamics Simulations as a Design Tool for Robotically-Poured Aggregate Structures Consisting of Polygonal Concave Particles, in Achten, H., Pavlicek, J., Hulin, J., Matejdan, D. (eds.), Digital Physicality – Proceedings of the 30th eCAADe Conference, Czech Technical University in Prague, Faculty of Architecture (Czech Republic) 12-14 September 2012, pp. 711-719. (ISBN 978-9-4912070-3-7)

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2012, Aggregate Structures: Material and Machine Computation of Designed Granular Substances, Architectural Design, Vol. 82 No. 2, Wiley Academy, London. pp. 74-81. (ISBN: 978 0470973301)

Dierichs, K., Menges, A.: 2012, Aggregate Architectures, Observing and Designing with Changeable Material Systems in Architecture, in Costa, X., Thorne, M. (eds), Change, Architecture, Education, Practices – Proceedings of the International ACSA Conference, Barcelona, Spain, 20-22 June 2012, pp. 463-468. (ISBN 978-0-935502-83-1)

Dierichs, K. and Menges, A.: 2012, Material und Machine Computation als Grundlage Experimenteller Ästhetik in der Aggregat Architektur, Kongress-Akten des VIII. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Ästhetik 2011,

Dierichs, K., Fleissner, F. and Menges, A.: 2011, Interrelation of experiment and simulation in the development of Aggregate Architectures, Digital Proceedings of the International Symposion on Algorithmic Design for Architecture and Urban Design (ALGODE) in Tokyo (Japan) 14-16 March 2011.

Dierichs, K. and Menges, A.: 2010, Material Computation in Architectural Aggregate Systems, In:Formation, Proceedings of the 30th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design In Architecture (ACADIA), New York City (USA) 21-24 October 2010, pp. 372-78. (ISBN 978-1450734714)

Dierichs, K. and Menges, A.: 2010, Natural Aggregation Processes as Models for Architectural Material Systems, in: Proceedings of the Design and Nature Conference 2010, Pisa, Italy, Southampton, WIT Press, pp. 17-27. (ISBN: 978-1845644543)

Hensel, M., Menges, A.: 2008, Materialsysteme: Aggregate, ArchPlus, No. 188, pp. 76-85. (ISSN 05873452)

Hensel, M., Menges, A.: 2008, Aggregates, Architectural Design, Vol. 78 No. 2, pp. 80-87. (ISBN: 978-0470516874)