Anatomy of Structure: Robotics and Digital Fabrication

Can humans and robots working together find more efficient and sustainable ways to build? For an exhibition in London, we set out to merge research and practice.


A major new show titled Anatomy of Structure: The Future of Art + Architecture by global architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in collaboration with Princeton University, TU Delft, and Global Robots, takes over the 1300-square-meter Ambika P3 Gallery, presenting an action-packed live robotic construction and other innovations that transform the way we build now and in the future.

Clues to help solve future challenges in design and construction—from embodied carbon to structures inspired by nature—can be found by examining SOM’s history of innovation in engineering, research, sustainability, and the ground-breaking ideas that have shaped some of the world’s most significant structures and works of art. This quest is at the heart of Anatomy of Structure, a major new exhibition that will take a sweeping journey across the multidisciplinary design process at SOM. The show is set to open March 10th, 2020, and will be on view through April 17th at Ambika P3 Gallery, University of Westminster.

Through hand-drawn sketches, sculptures, research models, digital fabrication methods, immersive videos, and a line-up of more than 30 structural models of SOM’s most innovative buildings, including Broadgate Exchange House and The Stratford in London, Karlatornet in Gothenburg, Willis Tower (formerly Sears) in Chicago, and Burj Khalifa in Dubai—the exhibition seeks to establish a dialogue between past and present, ideas that lead to new architecture, and an unexpected approach to realizing artworks.

Organized according to five themes—Research + Future, Efficiency + Economy, Hierarchy + Order, Scale + Form, and Creation + Collaboration—visitors will tower over models of SOM’s tallest skyscrapers, and explore the intersection of art, architecture, structural design. The exhibition also dives into SOM’s recent collaborations with artists, including Janet Echelman, James Carpenter, Jaume Plensa, and Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle.

At the heart of the show is a soaring vault built of glass bricks, assembled live onsite by robots through the course of the exhibition. A joint effort between SOM and Princeton University, USA, in consultation with the TU Delft Glass & Transparency Research Group in the Netherlands, the demonstration marries architecture and digital fabrication to explore the next frontier in building construction.

Challenging conventional materials and construction methods, the exhibition explores a more sustainable future—with applicability today—driven by smarter materials, new efficient structures, and clever uses of automation.