Robots, Automation & Mass Timber in Buildings of the Future

The cross laminated timber super structure was designed by ETH Zurich and Gramazio Kohler Research.

Sat 07 Oct 23


At the entrance of the Swiss Tech Cluster known as ‘Zug’ stands ‘Samiaramis,’ a new 22.5-metre superstructure designed by ETH Zurich and Gramazio Kohler Research. The installation uses cross-laminated timber panels with robots to assemble the plates.

ETH Zurich is the studio behind The Vaugirard Social Housing precinct ‘clad in cross-laminated timber, steel and concrete and has designed the mass timber-inspired vertical garden with the help of AI and machine learning.

The superstructure is part of a Tech Cluster opened last year in greater Zurich. (Photo Credit: Michael Lyrenmann)

Construction is increasingly deploying AI and robots to develop 3D and even 4D prefabricated construction materials, with the latest research suggesting that automation could lead to a 50% reduction in material consumption, 63% reduction in emissions and 75% in time-saving.

Using interactive computational design, machine learning and digital fabrication, the architects created a towering superstructure consisting of eight wooden pods suspended by eight steel pillars.

The installation features eight cross-laminated timber pods connected by eight steel pillars. (Photo Credit: Michael Lyrenmann)

But it is its use of machine learning, thanks to a collaboration with the Swiss Data Science Centre, which is attracting attention.

According to the US-based Construction Specifier, the architecture and design community is increasingly using machine learning to create the buildings of the future. 

The 22.5m cross-laminated timber structure stands proudly in the heart of the tech precinct. (Photo Credit: Michael Lyrenmann)

The project used machine learning to determine the most efficient design variations considering factors like sunshades, rain protection and even plantable surfaces. 

The collaboration with the Computational Robotics Lab led to the creation of a custom tool which enables the optimisation of the complex geometry of individual pods while accounting for material properties and fabrication parameters. 

Doing this ensured that each panel maintained its flatness and adhered to specified size constraints while enhancing structural integrity.

The cross-laminated panels were assembled into place using a robotic assembly system. (Photo Credit: Michael Lyrenmann)

The cross-laminated timber plates were assembled using a robotic procedure developed by ETH Zurich in collaboration with Timbatec Timber Construction Engineers in Switzerland.

This process enables the butt joint bonding of wood, producing large areas of intricately folded wood structures.

A close-up view of the cross-laminated panels being bonded into place using the robotic assembly system. (Photo Credit: Michael Lyrenmann)

Lightweight timber structures are suitable for automated on-site assembly due to the high precision in prefabrication and the low component weight.

According to research from Goldman Sachs, architecture and engineering are among the top 3 industries impacted by the push to AI and automation, with 37% of roles disrupted by new technology.

 In July, Wood Central reported that leading architectural practices use “Midjourney” software to expedite the conceptual design phase.

The software presents project-specific design precedents that align well with client requirements, visions, and aesthetic preferences.

The software is already used for various projects, including mixed-use mass timber buildings.


  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


Related Articles