Imagine a structure as complex yet lightweight as a beetle’s carapace or a lobster’s shell. Each year, the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design (headed by Achim Menges) and the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (led by Jan Knippers) come together, assigning students to build a biomimetic pavilion – except that they don’t build it in the hammer-and-nail sense. For the latest research pavilion, they studied and abstracted a beetle’s shell, computer-modelled the components and the final structure, then programmed robots (two six-axis KUKA KR 210 R3100 robots, to be exact) to weave the necessary carbon fibre elements, which they assembled on campus.
The university accepts qualified applicants annually into its two-year integrative technologies and architectural design research program, which is so specialized it’s not exactly transferable to practice. “You can only do this kind of exploration in an academic surrounding,” says instructor Moritz Dörstelmann. “What is transferable is design thinking, and interdisciplinary group work. We’re working with biologists, scientists [from other schools] and material specialists from the aerospace institute.”
Using computer technology as the driving design methodology, the school boasts a robot lab, a material testing lab, a model shop with CNC milling machines, a computer lab with a 3‑D printer, and wood and metal shops. The institute challenges the profession to adopt a more sophisticated approach to architecture and engineering, one that doesn’t rely on multiplying the same part over and over again. Ideally, this eliminates unnecessary structural load and saves money. “In nature, material saving is important for every living organism, but nature has complex procedures to develop complex morphology,” says Dörstelmann. “Now we can generate meaningful geometries and fabricate these through the digital techniques we develop.”
Another advantage of heading to Stuttgart is Germany’s free tuition policy, which applies to international students as well. Other top schools that teach at a similar level of digital fabrication, and which Dörstelmann recommends, include ETH Zürich, the University of Michigan’s Taubman College, MIT, Princeton University, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where both he and Achim Menges also teach.
About the School
University of Stuttgart Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning / Stuttgart, Germany / undergraduate to doctorate programs / 1,400 students / 85 faculty / tuition free