At last year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial, Skylar Tibbits, Jan Willmann, and Matthias Kohler presented a structure called Rock Print. They designed the piece, but the tower built itself—thanks to robots that algorithmically laid out its supporting textile filament. Tibbits, codirector of the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT, investigates transformable materials for industry use, but so far the advances have been limited to a smaller scale, like the programmable textiles he developed with Christophe Guberan. "The major challenges for the built environment are the amount of energy and complexity of construction," he says. Still, Tibbits sees self-assembly as a way to make buildings—and cities—smarter. As scientists study how materials such as carbon fiber respond to energy sources like heat, they can engineer the materials to transform in useful ways, so "the design is always evolving."
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