The Berlage

Session Room K

Robotic Landscapes: Forming Terrain with Granular Material

Ilmar Hurkxkens

Moving earth is an increasingly important task in the creation of resilient urban and landscape topography. The increase of natural hazards like sea-level rise, landslides, floods, and drought point to the delicate balance that exists in our ecosystems. While heavy hydraulic equipment used to construct large-scale earthworks in response to natural hazards has existed for over a millennium, taking informed and regenerative action on any of these challenges has proven problematic. Focusing on recent advances in autonomous excavation and digital fabrication technologies, this lecture will question how future landscape topologies can be designed and constructed. Instead of predefined and static modifications of the landscape, robotic systems enable the shaping of terrain using site-specific, dynamic, and open-ended construction processes. By manipulating natural granular material, these processes can then model terrain that evolves over time. Here, form and process are equally considered in the investigation of spatial relationships that exist in surface structures traversing urban, infrastructural, and natural landscapes. This lecture posits that by designing new topological rules for forming terrain, a new found natural equilibrium can be constructed between solid and fluid states of matter.

Ilmar Hurkxkens is a doctoral candidate at the ETH Zurich’s Chair of Landscape Architecture that investigates the architectural potential of on-site robotic construction following topological methods in landscape architecture withinNCCR Digital Fabrication. He previously studied architecture at the Delft University of Technology, graduating in 2009 with an honorable mention for the design of a linear city and sea dike that combines architecture with flood control. Since 2010, he has taught at the Chair of Landscape Architecture of Professor Christophe Girot at the ETH Zurich where he is coordinator of the DesignLab and active in the Landscape Visualization and Modeling Lab. He received the 2013 Young Researcher Award at the international conference “Thinking the Contemporary Landscape” in Herrenhausen, Germany. He most recently was premiated the 2018 Digital Culture Work Contributions Award of Migros-Kulturprozent, in collaboration with Fabian Bircher as Ungenau Robotics, for questioning people’s relation toward robot technology. In 2015, he founded his own firm Studio Ilmar Hurkxkens and co-founded Landskip, a laboratory for landscape transformation.

More events