The workshop introduces participants to the notion of designer matter and teaches robotic construction techniques which are gentle and non-invasive to the material system and the surrounding environment. Participants get an overview of the theoretical foundations of designer matter proposing a transition from machinic processes of architectural production towards a material intelligence: the material in and of itself becomes a machine.


Designer matter (DM) denotes a material in which the constituent elements on a meso-scale are tailored to achieve specific macro-level effects. Designer is a trans-disciplinary concept and integrates novel fabrication techniques, simulation approaches and theoretical advances. It encompasses a range of current research trends such as smart materials, mediated matter or machine matter.

Granular matter is defined as a system consisting of a multitude of particles with only contact forces acting between them. If the individual particle is designed, the behaviour of the overall system can be calibrated to specific performative effects. Designed granular matter is a form of designer matter (DM).

Wood is hygroscopic, that means that it absorbs water and in that process undergoes a deformation. This process can be deployed for deliberated and very controlled geometric transformations of a bi-layer wood material.

In hygroscopic granular matter all or parts of a particle are made from hygroscopic actuated wood. That means that the particle geometry can undergo transformations, for example moving from a convex linear to a double non-convex hook-shaped geometry. The properties of the system consequently change over time as the hygroscopic material transforms under the influence of its environment.


Robots are devices which can be programmed to perform a specific task. The common understanding of a robot includes a device with a digitally controlled processor which is used to operate a machine. However this understanding can be widened, if the notion of programming is no longer confined to digital operations only, but also encompasses the encoding of information in a material itself. The material becomes a robot.

A cable robot consists of two to four winches between which cables are spanned which hold an effector. The winches are digitally controlled. The advantages of a cable robot are relatively wide construction span with moderate payload and good precision.

An aerial robot has several rotors which allow for it to fly. It is controlled remotely from a stationary computer. Its advantages are that it has a wide range of operation and the fact that its installation is minimally invasive in an environment. Its low precision is frequently viewed as a disadvantage in construction however if it is paired with a system which has high tolerances in itself like granular materials, this fact does not play a crucial role.

The hygroscopic particles themselves can be considered robots. They undergo a geometric transformation over time which is controlled by the environmental humidity. If this motion is deployed to operate on and consequently transform parts or the whole of a granular system, the particles themselves can become machines.

The workshop will consequently approach robots and matter from two angles. On the one hand robots, the cable robot and/or the aerial robot will interact with the hygroscopic granular material. On the other hand the hygroscopic particles will be treated as intelligent machines themselves, they will be investigated as a form of robotic matter.

Participants will work with both matter and robots. On the matter side they will design with hygroscopic particles and locally sourced wood branches, which are considered and treated as a granular material. On the robot side they are accustomed with a cable robot and aerial robots but also introduced to the notion of robotic matter. In the first phase teams of two will make design proposals that integrate at least one granular system and one robotic system. In phase two these proposals will be developed into one or two full-scale architectural prototypes.


Workshop Tutors
Karola Dierichs, Achim Menges
with Dylan Wood, Ondrej Kyjanek, Leyla Yunis

Scientific Development
Karola Dierichs, Dylan Wood
with David Correa, Matthias Helmreich

Robotic System Development
Ondrej Kyjanek with Martin Loucka

Project Coordination
Karola Dierichs with Leyla Yunis

Research Assistants
Miguel Aflalo, Martin Alvarez, Christian Arias, Pedro Giachini, Jasmin Sadegh,
Alexander Wolkow

Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction
Domaine de Boisbuchet


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