How to Build a House: Architectural Research in the Digital Age

Exhibition on view from September 12 – October 13

Event Details


41 Cooper Gallery
41 Cooper Square (Third Ave between 6th and 7th Streets), New York, New York 10003 United States


September 12, 2019 - October 13, 2019



How to Build a House: Architectural Research in the Digital Age showcases the conception and making of the DFAB HOUSE, the world’s first fully inhabited building to have been digitally planned and largely built with the help of robots and 3D printers. The exhibition is presented by The Cooper Union’s Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture and swissnex, the Swiss global network connecting the dots in education, research, and innovation.

How to Build a House is a visual journey through research on the digital transformation of architecture and construction. It reveals the genesis of a three-story experimental building in Switzerland. This house results from pioneering works in computational design and digital fabrication by architects and experts in fields ranging from robotics to materials science at ETH Zurich, a leading Swiss institute of technology.

Through the NCCR Digital Fabrication, a Swiss National Science Foundation program, seven research groups created the DFAB HOUSE using robots from the labs of ETH Zurich. Their approach makes planning and construction more efficient, but also more sustainable. For example, the digitally planned floor slab is optimized so that considerable amounts of material can be saved compared to a conventional concrete slab. This is significant, as cement production currently represents an estimated 8% of the global amount of CO2 emissions.

The exhibit is an entry point into understanding the digital as a novel domain for architects to draw from at each step of the design, fabrication, and assembly of a building. Photographs and videos of the fabrication process along with several 1:1 scale prototypes such as a mullion (a window frame) made through a digitally controlled casting process will be on view. Additionally, exhibition attendees will have an opportunity to experience the fabrication process through a virtual reality component in the gallery.

Although driven by technology, the impact of research in How to Build a House goes far beyond automation and optimization. As a new paradigm, the computational in architecture provides answers to changing societal needs and ecological challenges, while reforming aesthetic principles and establishing a new sense of beauty in architecture.

How to Build a House: Architectural Research in the Digital Age was curated by Hannes Mayer and Sarah Schneider of Gramazio Kohler Research and was originally produced by swissnex San Francisco and premiered at the swissnex Gallery in the Spring of 2019. It was coordinated at The Cooper Union by Steven Hilyer, Director, The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive. The exhibition is supported by NCCR Digital Fabrication, ETH Zurich, swissnex, and the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York, and is presented in association with Archtober, Architecture and Design Month New York City, October 2019.

The exhibition is open to the public from September 12 – October 13, 2019, at the Cooper Union, New York City.