Milan’s design week in April witnessed an innovative drone contribution towards the process of building infrastructure with natural materials- aspects of earth architecture. In a project by the name ‘terramia’ the Spanish architecture firm MuDD used drones that spray a cement-like substance onto fabric to construct lightweight structures. MuDD architects collaborated with canya viva, summum engineering and AKT II to build ‘terramia’ housing prototypes using a combination of drone spraying, drone blowing and drone lifting.
The method eliminates the need for expensive construction equipment and could be used, not only to create temporary shelters in humanitarian disaster areas, but also large structures in modern cities in the future, the designers say.
These Terramia prototypes are made of a bamboo structure wrapped in fabric. A quadcopter drone then sprays shotcrete, a method for adding cement, out of a long hose. Shotcrete typically requires a crane or human operators to be applied effectively. Realized in just 5 days in palazzo regione lombardia, the team utilized local raw materials, such as mud and bamboo, to form the series of earthen shells. The bamboo was sourced in a forest 20 km from Milan, while the sands and clays were excavated and collected from the city’s suburbs.
MuDD’s principal Stephanie Chaltiel writes in an email “Building with local materials such as bamboos, clay, sands, and rice husks offers a high sustainability factor.” Drone spraying speeds up this process: It took them five days to build the prototypes. It might’ve taken weeks otherwise. The drone spray technique was developed with drone companies RCTake-off and Euromair plus researchers at the Catholic University of Louvain, France.
Working on site, the bamboo structures were first raised by the team using five thin arches per vault, which provided a robust skeleton to receive the layer of heavy mortars on top. Drones were then employed to lift and cover the forms in a large customized fabric, doing away with the requirement of human labour and thereby bringing construction costs down. Drone technology was also used to spray wet mixes and to blow dry fibres for insulation. The entire process took place in an urban context with a significant flow of pedestrians, offering the public a new vision of drone architecture, showcasing the potential capabilities and applications.
With minimal skilled labour requirement and with its short construction period, the project showcased how the prototype could be potentially used for low-budget or humanitarian shelter. While the drone technique still requires some manual labour: Human skill is required to fly it and another person to hold the spraying hose- efforts to reduce human effort involved is being worked upon.
By utilizing strictly local raw materials, the ‘terramia’ prototype intends to provide a vision of the future. By combining skills from the respective studios that form the multi-disciplinary team, the project moves from conventional building processes and lengthy construction periods to envision how more sustainable housing can be created, but also more cost-effective. In the future, Chaltiel wants to further automate the process: She envisions flying the drone remotely or even automating it completely.
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