Integrating Computational Design and Research Could Stimulate New Digital Craftmanship
The Advanced Master “Design by Data” in Computation Design & Robotics for Architecture and Construction was launched in 2016 and is one of the latest programs in innovative professional education at l’École des Ponts ParisTech. The program was designed to meet the increasing need of the professional sectors of architecture and engineering for combining architectural awareness and skills in creative engineering. Design by Data trains professionals to master advanced design tools (coding, generative design, machine learning) as well as digital manufacturing and design processes (robotics, 3D printing, and mechatronics) applied to architectural and construction projects.
Attendees develop their knowledge of digital culture, especially advanced mathematics and computational strategies, as well as a scientific mastery of digital tools and innovative structural design, and modeling and managing complex geometries. In addition to the core curriculum, students are also trained in parametric design and participate in two week-long seminars (the first on imaging and machine learning, the second on an agent-based design approach).
Participation in a Research Studio once per month, as well, provides time in which students define and develop their Research Project. Attendees benefit all year long from access to a rich support ecosystem, including research faculty of l’École des Ponts ParisTech, professionals in the field, and internationally renowned experts from other countries based on the program’s educational requirements and students’ research projects.
l’École des Ponts ParisTech Master’s classes have a strong international component with more than 15 nationalities represented; the majority of the students have an architectural or engineering background, but the Academic Board pays particular attention to also selecting atypical candidates (artists, designers, and real estate professionals, for example) who contribute to the enriching interactions amongst students.
The Design by Data program was developed in a joint collaboration between industry and research and is integrated into a broader initiative of Ecole des Ponts. The initiative, called Build’in, is the technological platform on digital construction from l’Ecole des Ponts ParisTech. It aims to tackle the challenges of construction digitalization through open innovation and an interdisciplinary research approach. Build’in benefits from the expertise of the school’s research labs, industrial equipment, and partnership with innovative companies, like HAL Robotics Ltd or XTreeE. Research topics include new construction materials, 3d-printing processes, timber construction, and environmentally-compatible structural design.
The platform has been awarded national and regional funding and is the keystone of DiXite, a collaborative research project on digital construction sites. The project Build’in+, funded by the Paris region, aims at increasing technology transfer to the local industry. Several patents on 3d printing and lightweight structures resulting from the R&D effort of the platform have already been registered.
Romain Mesnil, Build’in director, explains the motivations behind this project:
“Buildings are the result of compromise between very different people (architects, engineers, contractors, craftsmen) and involve many competencies. With Build’in, we propose a technological platform devoted to co-innovation where the different professions can meet to conduct trans-disciplinary research on construction automation. Our goal is not to automate at all costs, but rather to find where robotics and computational design could make sense, from an economical and environmental perspective.”
3D Printing: Towards a Digital Craftsmanship Inspired by Historical Structures
3D printing has been an active topic of research worldwide for several years and receives significant attention and media coverage. Printing complex shapes could make structures more efficient while also removing scaffolding, which represents 2% of global waste. Yet, few applications explore the formal freedom offered by generative design and robotics. Printing complex shapes without temporary support does indeed require cantilevering fresh concrete, which is a challenge.
Paul Carneau, a Design by Data alumnus, tackled this problem in his PhD under the supervision of Prof. Olivier Baverel, Dr. Nicolas Roussel, and Dr. Romain Mesnil. Rather than adopting a purely technical approach, the researchers took inspiration from historical masonry structures from Byzantine antiquity to the French stereotomy of the 18th century. Constructing without scaffolding was the norm before the industrial revolution, as famously demonstrated by Brunelleschi and the Florence Duomo. The researchers identified key similarities between masonry and 3D printed concrete structures and then went on to further characterize the ability to deform concrete laces, similarly to how stone cutters would shape blocks according to structural needs. 3D printed prototypes have been built at l’Ecole des Ponts with an extruder developed by XtreeE and pave the road for increasingly ambitious and efficient design.
Mahan Motamedi also studies the 3D printing of cantilevers with a focus on earth-based materials. During his PhD, also under the direction of Olivier Baverel and Romain Mesnil, he explores traditional vaulting techniques in Iran and proposes a grammar derived from those brickworks, providing designers with a range of possible solutions to span over a given area. The Design by Data program provided him with the fundamental research-based computational skills allowing him to dive into this research field.
5th Edition Now Open
Despite the pandemic, the program just kicked-off its 5th edition with a newly updated program and a blend of remote and onsite learning. Applications for the 6th edition just opened as well, to join the program in September 2021.
 Llatas, C. (2011). A model for quantifying construction waste in projects according to the European waste list. Waste management, 31(6), 1261-1276.
 Paul Carneau, Romain Mesnil, Nicolas Roussel, Olivier Baverel, Additive manufacturing of cantilever – From masonry to concrete 3D printing, Automation in Construction, Volume 116, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autcon.2020.103184.
 Carneau P., Mesnil R., Ducoulombier N., Roussel N., Baverel O. (2020) Characterisation of the Layer Pressing Strategy for Concrete 3D Printing. In: Bos F., Lucas S., Wolfs R., Salet T. (eds) Second RILEM International Conference on Concrete and Digital Fabrication. DC 2020. RILEM Bookseries, vol 28. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-49916-7_19
 Motamedi, M., Oval, R., Carneau, P., & Baverel, O. (2019, September). Supportless 3D Printing of Shells: Adaptation of Ancient Vaulting Techniques to Digital Fabrication. In Design Modelling Symposium Berlin (pp. 714-726). Springer, Cham.