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What does the future of making look like?

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Since it was founded at The Bartlett in 2011, the FABRICATE conference has set the agenda during a decade that has empowered designers with new tools and capabilities for making and remaking the built environment.

What does the future of making look like?

'Lumen' by Jenny Sabin Studio for The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program 2017, on view at MoMA PS1 from June 29 to September 4, 2017.

Credit: Photograph by Jesse Winter. Image courtesy Ten10 Studios

The book is deliberately published the day before the conference opens, thereby freeing the event for open discussion and dialogue.

Professor Bob Sheil

“At its heart, FABRICATE is about doing: the where, who, what, why and how of doing,” wrote Professor Bob Sheil and Achim Menges in their introduction to the eponymous book accompanying the 2017 conference.

A triennial peer-reviewed conference, FABRICATE has, for the best part of a decade, given a platform to new built works, presiding over an extraordinary period for the built environment during which radical new opportunities have opened up for design in manufacturing, computation, material science and assembly.

Co-founded in 2011 by Sheil, who is Director of The Bartlett School of Architecture, and Ruairi Glynn, Design for Performance & Interaction Programme Director, FABRICATE emerged just as many of the novel technologies and techniques of the early 2000s were becoming commonplace in academic institutions. Writing at the time, the founders describe a growing breed of young architect-fabricators who were “challenging conventional modes of practice, relocating design to a position where material knowledge is both tacitly understood and fully exploited”.

What does the future of making look like?

Infundibuliforms by Wes Mcgee, Kathy Velikov, Geoffrey Thün and Dan Tish. Prototype, second iteration in position with two infundibula down and one up, October 2016.

Credit: RVTR / Matter Design 2016

A work about works in progress

FABRICATE has always targeted new built works – either recently completed or nearing completion by the time of the conference – so from the start, Sheil and Glynn wanted to make sure they attracted submissions from industry and practice, as well as academia. Submissions are via an open call for work and the deadline is set 10 months prior to the conference, with the first stage of submission light-touch, so that practitioners then have a chance to fully write up their papers once they know they’ve been selected.

The first conference in London 2011, themed ‘Making Digital Architecture’, received 220 project submissions from 37 countries. FABRICATE then moved to Zurich in 2014 (‘Negotiating Design and Making’) and Stuttgart in 2017 (‘Rethinking Design and Construction’). Together, the three conferences have welcomed more than a thousand delegates and 590 project submissions from leading practices and world-renowned institutions.

For each conference, 32 projects make the final cut and these are gathered together into a hardback book. Three have been published to date and also made available to read online, where they’ve been downloaded more than 75,000 times to date. Sheil says that the book is deliberately published the day before the conference opens, “thereby freeing the event for open discussion and dialogue”.

This approach speaks to what FABRICATE is all about: works in progress. Rather than simply deliver their paper at the conference, authors are encouraged to go off-script and bring in new ideas that have come into play, emphasising the importance FABRICATE places on talking, showing and rethinking.

What does the future of making look like?

Armadillio Vault by Philippe Block, Matthias Rippmann, Tom Van Mele and David Escobedo. The local shell thickness ranges from 5cm at the midspan to 12 cm at the internal touch-down and point springing.

Credit: Photograph by Anna Maragkoudaki / Block Research Group, ETH Zurich

Creating creative construction

For the fourth edition of the conference, FABRICATE will return to The Bartlett School of Architecture in April 2020 and will be held at The Bartlett’s state-of-the-art research and making space at UCL at Here East. The school is co-organising with Swinburne University of Technology and Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; Jenny Sabin, the Wiesenberger Professor in Design and Emerging Technologies at Cornell’s Department of Architecture, will co-chair with Swinburne School of Design Dean Jane Burry.

Sabin says that in an era where we are witnessing one of the biggest paradigm shifts in the conceptualisation, making, and construction of buildings, FABRICATE’s role is to celebrate and debate “the most cutting-edge innovations in digital fabrication to impact architectural pedagogy, trans-disciplinary research, and applied professional practice in a changing world”.

The call for abstracts is already open (deadline 13 June) and the team is looking for submissions that examine how the latest digital design and fabrication technologies are enabling new creative and construction opportunities, as well as techniques being developed to bridge the gap that exists between digital modelling and its realisation.

The School of Architecture is internationally renowned for innovative research and teaching that is academically rigorous, critically informed, design-led and interdisciplinary. It is part of The Bartlett, UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment. Find out more: https://ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/architecture

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