Regenerative Assemblage

This thesis examines the possibilities to bring back the lost beauty in the old technology of timber joinery in Asia by reinventing them with robotic fabrication methods and exploring its capacity to be a sustainable alternative for future architectural construction.

This project aims to suggest a new assembly system that upcycles timber material by joining recycled short elements by making multi-directional joints that allow for a longer span and greater height structures.

The thesis’s work is to set out an experiment of reusing abandoned timber pieces to regenerate a self-supportive column that turns into a roof structure.

Reformative Coral Habitats | Reef Tiles

Reformative Coral Habitats | Reef Tiles
Rethinking Artificial Reef structures through a robotic 3D clay printing method.

Project Credits:
Robotic Fabrication Lab | Faculty of Architecture | The University of Hong Kong
Christian J. Lange (Team Leader)
Lidia Ratoi
Dominic Co Lim
Jason Hu

Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) | The University of Hong Kong
David M. Baker, Ph.D. (Team Leader)
Vriko Yu
Phil Thompson

The coral restoration project is a collaborative research mission between the Robotic Fabrication Lab, Faculty of Architecture, and the Swire Institute of Marine Science, both at The University of Hong Kong. The project is commissioned by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and is part of an ongoing active management measure for coral restoration in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park in Hong Kong. Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park accounts for more than three quarters of reef building coral species in Hong Kong, and is also a home for more than 120 reef associated fishes. However, gradual deterioration by bio-erosion over the years, coupled with bleaching and mass mortality events in 2015-2016, are putting local coral community at risk. Hence, a team of marine biologists and architects has developed a series of reformative 3D printed terracotta reef-structures intended to aid coral restoration by providing structurally complex substrates at a degraded area.

Historically, artificial reefs are made from pollutants-leaching materials (e.g. plastic/concrete/metal) and now transformed into environmentally friendly materials (e.g. ceramic and terracotta). The project team from HKU uses 3D printing technology to engineer structures that can be customized for specific locations with different environmental challenges (e.g. sedimentation), thus enhancing the ecological restoration success.

The 3D printed reef tiles are designed to prevent sedimentation build up, which is one of the major threats for corals. A tailored algorithm was used to print the biomimicry patterns integrated with spaces for securing coral fragments. The production of the 128 pieces of reef tiles with a diameter of 600mm, covering roughly 40 sqm in total, was finalized in early July of 2020. They were printed through a robotic 3D clay printing method with generic terracotta clay and then fired at 1125 degrees Celsius. The design was inspired by the patterns typical to corals and integrated several performative aspects addressing the specific conditions in Hong Kong waters. The 3D printed reef tiles have been deployed in July 2020 at three selected sites within the park which include Coral Beach, Moon Island, and in a sheltered bay near the WWF marine life education center.

This pilot study aims to investigate the restoration success using mono-, mix- and polyculture of three coral species, namely AcroporaPlatygyra, and Pavona. The three selected species display different strategies, representing the historical, current, and future dominant candidates in the park – Acropora, commonly known as staghorn corals, are fast growing making them a competitive species for space; Platygyra, as known as brain corals, are adaptive to thermal stress, yet suffering from bio-erosion; and Pavona, the leaf coral, with the unique plate-like growth form are adaptive to sedimentation. The project team collected corals of opportunity, which are dislodged coral fragments that are unlikely to survive given no human intervention and given these coral fragments a second chance to thrive. The coral fragments have been outplanted in July 2020, and the experiment will be monitored for the coming year.

The researchers hope that this new method for artificial reef tiles will help to restore corals and conserve biodiversity more effectively and become a vital contribution to the ongoing global efforts to save the degraded coral reef systems in metropolises.

Completion Year:  2020

Location: Coral Beach, Moon Island, and the WWF marine life education center, Hong Kong

Built Area (m2):  ~ 40 sqm

Funding body:  AFCD


Mies van der Rohe once said “Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.” With recent developments in the digital fabrication sector, I believe we can now say Architecture starts when you carefully design and make a brick. There it begins. Over the past two decades, digital technology has enabled us to be much more involved in the making of a building and partially triggered a return to crafts and material. With the advent of robotics in architecture, this trend has even deepened. Around the world practitioners and researchers work on new material systems and technologies that not only involve the design, but also the design of the whole set-up of making, including programing, tool design, and much more. We are currently witnessing a fundamental shift in architecture that involves new modes of production, new material systems but also new roles for the architect.

The studio Autobrickformation II is a continuation of the Fall 2018 March studio and is aligned with the research that is currently undertaken in the Robotic Fabrication Lab at HKU. The focus of the studio is to understand the potentials of robotic 3d printing and its impact on architectural design and its production.

Minimal Paper

Thesis Abstract

The thesis is dedicated to the material on which this text is printed on – paper. Paper is associated with fragility and rigidity at the same time. Its dual properties contribute to its humanistic touch. Though uncommon, use of paper as a literal material in architecture is not novel. From the Japanese shoji which exhibits planarity and translucency of paper, to the innovative use of rolled or folded derivatives of paper (honeycomb, origami structures, Shigeru Ban’s paper tube systems), paper remains in its pre-defined form. The thesis goes one step backward to the paper pulp and embraces the versatility of its geometric potential. The technique of Molded Pulp Packaging is taken as a key reference for opening up more formal possibilities and bringing breakthroughs to the application of paper in architecture. Specifically, the thesis introduces the making of paper with minimal properties in various aspects through iterative designs of wood-and-fabric-based paper-making formwork and techniques.

Minimal materials / The comparatively isotropic properties of paper pulp and the self-bonding properties of cellulose fibers upon drying allows the fabrication of physical minimal surfaces which locally minimize the surface area bound by a given network of boundary curves. Papers in the form of minimal surfaces obtain rigidity through their anticlastic profiles. Undulation and corrugation of the edges and stress lines give further reinforcement. The geometric manipulation in both the global and local geometry gives strength and intactness to the fragile paper. Spatially, it offers thinness and doubly-curved surfaces.

Minimal connections / The monolithic and self-connecting properties of paper pulp allow minimal connections among numerous pre-fabricated paper modules. The artefacts can come seamless and jointless.

Minimal waste / The recyclable nature of paper and the abundance of wastepaper around us makes this material perfect for fabricating temporary space without creating much waste. Paper components can be easily reduced to pulp again and serve another architectural life. Formworks produced are also reusable. As a side note, all the pulp used in the thesis originates from locally-collected wastepaper.

Building with Pressure

Thesis Abstract

Casting a concrete slab with an inflatable formwork is essentially carving out excessive material from the bottom of the slab with air pressure. This idea of removing material resonates with Pier Nervi’s waffle slab, as well as Robert Maillard’s mushroom slab. This thesis, however, also extends beyond the structural and construction realm, and becomes a design tool which uses the ceiling to articulate the spaces below.

The design of the inflatable formwork was inspired by the technique of upholstery; a method to provide structure to a sheet of PVC by pinning it down to a checkered grid and applying air pressure. The grid is defined by the position of the columns, and the sheet of PVC provides the concrete with a form active structure. Because of the nature of the fabric like material, ribs are formed around the columns and capitals, behaving as a second layer of structural supports against buckling. With increasing height, pressure, and corrugation in the formwork, a Gothic imagery emerges and the slab has the potential to become a vault-like structure.

This thesis begins with a building method that is both material and cost efficient. And as it progresses a style emerges, it acts as a tool to help us rethink the ceiling as an architectural form, using its arrangement, depth and weight to convey the spaces beneath it.


The history of architecture is primarily based on a model of parts-to-whole. One of the oldest building material that is the ultimate embodiment of this concept is the brick. The brick was until modern times the standard component to build mundane buildings around the world. It represents a building material that can be flexibly assembled, is good in compression, and, although it’s based on a standardized logic, has an extensive range of architectural expression. Originally bricks were made through a slop moulding method. Today, most industrially produced bricks are made through a die extrusion process. It’s a fast and economical method but has its limitations in complexity achievable.

In the past decade, 3d printing technology has become more advanced and has made its way into architecture. Many of the industry experts who are driving this development dream of large-scale production with large printers that print entire houses in every shape and form. Though there are quite a few promising developments on the horizon, it is certain that this trend will be only one trajectory of how we think about new technologies to drive contemporary architectural production. The studio therefore will focus on the brick and try to understand how recent technologies can rethink this 7000-year-old building material.

Fibrous Dimensions | Robotically Woven Structures

This thesis focused on the possibilities of carbon fiber as a structural element. It aimed at reducing the potential hazard brought by the deficient structures after earthquakes by capitalizing on the lightweight and fibrous nature of carbon fiber.

The thesis departed from the fibrous system as an enclosure in the four architectural elements suggested by Gottfried Semper in 1851. By understanding the limitations of the interwoven network of fibrous materials, this investigation was to challenge it to be a structural medium than merely a building envelope.

Carbon fiber has been commonly used in the automobile and aircraft industries since the 1980s, but rarely used in architectural construction due to the cost and scale. With the aid of digital simulation and robotic fabrication, the thesis investigated the articulation of carbon fiber to achieve higher structural stability for architecture.

The investigation of carbon fiber as a structural element consisted of several stages. It began with the testing of the thread pattern in both digital and handcrafted ways, followed by the prototyping of the looms as the medium of the woven structure. Lastly, analog and robotic fabrication were implemented as the method of achieving the high weight-to-strength thread structure.

3D Printed Clay: Form-Work for Pre-Fabrication of Concrete Vault Structures

This thesis set out to explore the possibility of concrete prefabrication by the use of clay form-work. The focus of this study was on robotic fabrication, material studies, and prototyping.

Through the use of a robotic arm, clay was 3D printed via a direct ink extrusion method to provide a form-work for the prefabrication of concrete vault structures. This method of making introduces new and unique aesthetics to concrete structures and finishes, which also allows for enhancing structural efficiency. Unlike traditional concrete form-work, the clay form-work allows for relatively straight forward construction of complex surface geometry. It is recyclable upon de-molding the concrete structure by adding water and remixing it to a new base material.

The thesis evolved through a series of experiments focusing on simple geometries to elaborate vaults. The various test results were analyzed and adjusted via feedback loops for comparison and improvement of the prototypical form through a series of geometric evolutions, studies, and observations on the behavior and performance of the 3D printed clay form-work. The final prototype of the concrete vault structure was structurally analyzed with computational tools. The outcome resulted in a combination of unique aesthetics and structural efficiency.

Solidity Subdivision – Robotically cut timber joints

This thesis seeks to understand the potentials of traditional Chinese craftsmanship in today’s built environment through the lens of robotic fabrication. The Chinese order in timber construction is at the heart of this project. It has been reevaluated not only in terms of its aesthetics but also in terms of its ability to be manufactured via automated fabrication systems.

The traditional Dougong system in Chinese order has been used for centuries. Though based on pure structural principles, it has evolved as one of the principal ornamental elements in Chinese architecture. Today, most architects ignore its structural potentials and instead prefer to use the Dougong just as an iconic cultural element.

In this thesis project, I have developed a system that transferred the traditional three separated components (Roof – Dougong – Column) of Chinese order into a holistic, integrated system. The advantage of this approach is that it can utilize smaller timber sections instead of large beams and columns. As a result, the method not only has the potential to bring back the traditional building system of the Dougong through a modern interpretation but also has the potential to be more sustainable.

Revisiting Michael Webb’s “The Cushicle & Suitaloon”

The thesis is revisiting Michael Webb’s project “The Cushicle & Suitaloon” from the 1960’s. At that time pneumatic architecture was a new trend because of innovative material systems. The thesis develops his idea of mobile urbanity further by introducing a new material system. Instead of using rubber, the project utilizes silicone, which has much more potential for space forming, higher interactive properties, and allows to merge two spaces into a single entity. The final goal was to build a pneumatic architectural structure that responds to the current living environment of the city – a private yet changeable space, which allows for communication, interaction and mobility.