DFAB HOUSE Timber Assemblies

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

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.


Exhibition runs from:
September 12 – October 13, 2019
Tuesday – Friday 2pm-7pm, Saturday and Sunday 12pm-7pm

41 Cooper Gallery at The Cooper Union
41 Cooper Square, New York, NY 10003

Selection of photos from the exhibition as originally displayed at the swissnex Gallery in San Francisco in the Spring of 2019.

Gallery photos: swissnex San Francisco


The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is a distinguished, private college of art, architecture, and engineering with a world-class faculty of humanities and social sciences.  Founded in 1859 by inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist Peter Cooper, the college is dedicated to his radical commitment to diversity and his founding vision that fair access to an inspiring free education and forums for courageous public discourse foster a just and thriving world.  With a student body of more than 900 undergraduate and graduate students, The Cooper Union’s curriculum focuses on helping students acquire technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and become inspired to address the critical challenges and opportunities of their time. The institution provides close contact with a distinguished, creative faculty and fosters rigorous, humanistic learning that is enhanced by the process of design and augmented by its urban setting in New York’s East Village. For more information, visit http://www.cooper.edu.

swissnex Boston and swissnex in New York are part of the global swissnex Network for international collaboration, connecting the dots in education, research, and innovation. The swissnex mission is to support the outreach and active engagement of our partners in the international exchange of knowledge, ideas and talent. The swissnex global network consists of five locations and outposts established in the world’s most innovative hubs. Together with around twenty Science and Technology Offices (STO) and Counselors (STC) based in Swiss Embassies, they contribute to strengthen Switzerland’s profile as a world-leading innovation hotspot.

DFAB HOUSE is a collaborative demonstrator of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication on the NEST building of Empa and Eawag in Dübendorf, Switzerland. As part of the full-featured building project, researchers from seven chairs of ETH Zurich have come together with industry experts and planning professionals to explore and test how digital fabrication can change the way we design and build. DFAB HOUSE is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation in collaboration with the funding partners at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.

Since its inception in 2005, the research group led by Professor Matthias Kohler and Professor Fabio Gramazio at ETH Zurich has been at the forefront of robotics and digital fabrication in architecture. With their robotic laboratories and work that ranges from prototypes to buildings, they have inspired architects and researchers alike to explore the capacities of industrial robots as universal tools of the digital age. Projects such as Structural Oscillations for the Architecture Biennale in Venice, Flight Assembled Architecture at the FRAC Centre Orléans, Rock Print for the Chicago Biennale and the Sequential Roof for the Arch_Tec_Lab at ETH Zurich have contributed to the group’s recognition as global leaders in the field of digital and robotic fabrication in architecture.

The chair for Digital Building Technologies led by Professor Benjamin Dillenburger at ETH Zurich researches new building technologies based on the seamless integration of design methods, digital fabrication and new materials. At the forefront of 3D printing technologies, DBT investigates additive manufacturing strategies in architecture, which have the potential to challenge traditional paradigms of construction and open up radically new design-solutions. The work of Digital Building Technologies has been presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale and the World Economic Forum in Davos. Digital Grotesque at the Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Smart Slab at the DFAB HOUSE highlight the groups pioneering research in digital fabrication.

The National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication is Switzerland’s initiative to lead the development and integration of digital technologies within the field of architecture. Initiated in 2014, the NCCR Digital Fabrication aims to revolutionize architecture through the seamless combination of digital technologies and physical building processes. Over 70 researchers from the disciplines of architecture, structural design, materials science, computer science, control systems engineering, and robotics collaborate to develop ground-breaking technologies for tomorrow’s construction.

Archtober (ärk’tōbər) is New York City’s Architecture and Design Month, an annual, month-long festival of architecture activities, programs, and exhibitions taking place during the month of October. Archtober presents special tours, lectures, films and exhibitions that focus on the importance of architecture and design in everyday life. The festival’s many participating organizations aim to raise awareness of the important role of design in our city and to build a lasting civic and international recognition of the richness of New York’s built environment.

DFAB House

Related Events

Opening Night
In conjunction with the exhibition, a panel discussion – Architectural Research in the Digital Age – will take place in Cooper Union’s Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, and will include Benjamin Dillenburger, Fabio Gramazio, Matthias Kohler, Jenny Sabin, Skylar Tibbits, and Dean Nader Tehrani.

Thursday, September 12, 2019 at 6:30 pm
Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, 41 Cooper Square

Press Kit

Exhibition Info: http://bit.ly/31Yiple 
DFAB House Press Release: empa.ch/en/web/s604/dfabhouse
Video: youtube.com/watch?v=NNYxSo6h_vo
NCCR Digital Fabrication: dfab.ch
For general press inquiries or to request an interview contact: Lionel Poussaz
For press tours contact: Kim Newman


1. Within DFAB HOUSE, for the first time, six novel digital building processes have been transferred from research to architectural application. Photo: Roman Keller.
2. Robots positioning timber beams. Photo: NCCR Digital Fabrication / Roman Keller
3. DFAB House & NEST Building. Photo: Roman Keller.
4. On the ground floor of DFAB HOUSE 15 bespoke, digitally fabricated concrete mullions line the façade, while the freeform Mesh Mould wall supports the load of the Smart Slab. Photo: Roman Keller.