Copyright Shogo Suzuki © 2014. All rights reserved.

Y3 Final Project | Drone Construction. Drone construction & emergent material research centre.

About project

Tutors: Alisdair Russell, Stuart Buckenham, Chris McCurtin

London, after its slight dip in population from the 1940s to the 1980s is once again, growing at an exponential rate. With the population estimated to grow to over 11.3 million people by 2050, London is faced with many problems, with infrastructure being one of them.

For London to grow to keep competing in the global economy, we must house more people, and create more places for work within central London, which results in the need to increase the density within the city. Whether this will be achieved by high-rise density, or low-rise density, there will no doubt be an increase in new-build and reform construction, where cranes are already becoming part of the London skyline.

However, with construction, there comes logistical problems of acquiring space for storing building materials which will become increasing difficult as London become denser, and efficiently bringing building materials to site on time, with minimal disruption to the already congested road network. London is a unique city, where the road systems have largely been slowly built up since the medieval age when London started as a small Roman town, with little change in the routing of the roads. It is this medieval road system we use, that is causing large amounts of congestion and problems with traffic.

In Project 2, an initial proposal for alleviating traffic problems within London was put forward which starts to remove some of the traffic on the roads, and bring the infrastructure up into the air using VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) vehicle technology, in the form of a small quad-rotor drone. This was designed in anticipation that drone technology could be used in the future to add another dimension of movement to our infrastructure network, where intra-city human transport could one day be carried out by air as well as on the ground.

This project, following on from questioning how drones could be used within the architectural realm, proposes an infrastructure which partly re-uses a now disused subterranean rail network running through central London (the Mail Rail) where this infrastructure in conjunction with drones and autonomous building technologies, alongside new emergent building materials could be used to create a seamless system for construction, with minimal disruption to existing infrastructure. By bringing part of the pathway for drones down below ground, this infrastructure acts as an experiment in keeping congestion within low altitude airspace as low as possible. The system aims to possibly change the fundamental nature of construction over time, injecting a simple system to change and evolve within London which is non-destructive against other systems and techniques in place already.

The initial emergent material technology which is proposed to work for this type of construction system is Carbon Fibre Digital Cellular Solids. This technology poses a promising new method of construction, where the materials are super-lightweight and easily transported by drones, which can then be assembled on-site autonomously through constructor drones or robots. This material is not only super-lightweight, but once the lattice is formed, the structure becomes incredibly rigid due to the structure of the component itself. The component essentially becomes the structure of superstructures, where a single component can be used to create numerous different structures.

The infrastructure beneath the main building acts as the supporting network to deploy these structures seamlessly in a dense and busy London, and the main building itself works to further innovate and improve upon the design of the components. The building and infrastructure together create a programme which not only allows for development within the system and construction material itself, but also generates public interest through exhibitions as well as allowing clients to see the entirety of the system directly, where the building is a permanent feature for people to see the processes behind the construction of buildings.

The building itself acts within its own ecosystem, with pathways and tunnels designed for drones to access and assist in the building’s operations. This is a system which can be reflected in the infrastructure itself as well as future infrastructures, where pathways and spaces are designated for use solely by drones, or to be shared by both people and drones.