The question of how to create more efficient, practical, and structurally sound buildings is one that architects and engineers have sought to answer throughout history. Today, with the aid of automation, Doctors Yuxiang Chen and Carlos Cruz-Noguez at the Construction Innovation Centre are working to find a solution.

Although technologies such as automation and innovative materials have begun to be incorporated into building design and construction processes, these advancements often target a single performance aspect, such as energy efficiency or productivity. This project seeks to develop an innovative, lightweight, robot-friendly building block with integrated features that will allow for better movement of heat and moisture through a structure as well as enhanced structural functions, thereby facilitating more effective modular design and improved additive construction processes. Unlike other products, which target improvements in narrow fields of performance (e.g., energy efficiency or productivity), the product of this research project seeks to address enhancements in multiple areas.

The project seeks to develop innovative, lightweight, robot-friendly building blocks with integrated features that will allow for better movement of heat and moisture through the resultant structure and enhanced structural functions that will better facilitate modular design and additive construction. Walls built with these new blocks will comply with modern building codes for energy, moisture, and airtightness. New construction methods using computational optimization and Lean construction methods will also be developed to assist site workers while conducting repetitive, high risk construction tasks.

According to Dr. Chen, “The integration of robotics, innovative materials, and additive manufacturing (or construction) will enhance the safety, sustainability, and productivity over the lifecycle of the walls. The Alberta building industry will witness, learn, and adopt the new technologies, thereby enhancing their business and technical competitiveness.”

The project aims to take an interdisciplinary approach by developing and integrating new technologies in structural design, thermal efficiency, computational design, and robotic construction to develop a holistic solution for the design and construction of high-performance exterior walls.

Dr. Chen and his team are working alongside the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association, the Masonry Contractors Association of Alberta, the Canada Masonry Design Centre, and Omron Industrial Innovation on this project. The practical masonry construction knowledge that these industry partners can provide to the researchers is integral to allowing the research team to find appropriate applications of the project’s results, as well as to guiding the research design. “Our industry partners have been helping the research in various ways,” Dr. Chen told the CIC, “including [by] providing access to [construction] site real-time information and constructing real-scale specimens.”

Looking for more details? Visit this project’s research page.