AUAR Completes First Permanent Dwelling Unit Using its Modular Timber Building System

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Bristol, UK—Bristol and London-based design and technology company Automated Architecture Ltd (AUAR) has completed its first permanent dwelling unit: Dwelling Unit for Musicians. At 10 square metres (107 square feet), the dwelling unit is constructed using AUAR’s modular timber building system, which integrates robotics and automation to provide high-quality, beautifully designed, and sustainable affordable housing. In particular, the project demonstrates the potential of AUAR’s system to support customisation and community participation in the construction process. 

Based in Bristol, the clients for Dwelling Unit for Musicians are a cellist and double bassist who will use the space as an office and rehearsal studio. They selected AUAR’s system over other options because AUAR’s dwelling units can be easily customized to site and use, offering a unique structure. Other draws included thermal and acoustic insulation, which can be achieved while still retaining a light-filled space, as well as renewable properties and a low-carbon footprint.

At its core, AUAR’s modular system consists of building blocks made from timber, a renewable material, which are robotically pre-fabricated and assembled into dwelling units. The production chain begins when a robot assembles timber sheets into individual building blocks, then stacks the blocks into easily transportable units. These units are delivered locally to a given site and assembled by local craftspeople and builders into homes. 

Using AUAR’s automation process, the units can be easily customized based on site characteristics and a given inhabitant’s lifestyle and visual preferences. This provides a radical alternative to existing modular housing approaches which are repetitive and difficult to adapt to local contexts. Uniquely, the timber building blocks can be disassembled and reassembled for other uses, therefore creating less material waste and aligning with principles of circular design.  

In the case of Dwelling Unit for Musicians, AUAR generated multiple designs in response to the South-East facing building site and an understanding of the clients’ needs. With the same number of blocks, AUAR discussed radically different, customised options. "Some of the designs were more introverted, other block combinations were more open to the garden, whilst others explored the design possibilities of an alcove space, with or without rooflight, and so on," explains AUAR CEO Mollie Claypool. From there, the clients selected the features they preferred, and a final version was generated. Importantly, the exact cost was known at all times, as it relates directly to the number of blocks used. 

Fabrication of the timber components took place locally, in Bristol, at the citizen-led manufacturing hub KWMC The Factory. Block prefabrication took two weeks and the dwelling unit itself was constructed in seven days by a combination of local contractors and community residents experienced in working with AUAR’s modular building system and employed to work alongside the AUAR team.

The resulting unit fits seamlessly into the client’s backyard. Despite a small footprint of 10sqm (107sf), a large floor-to-ceiling window/door offers a visual and physical connection to the client's garden, giving an impression of spaciousness. A skylight positioned over the desk enhances the natural light flooding the unit. Along with the timber blocks and timber cladding, all additional construction materials were selected for their low-carbon, sustainable properties. These include a non-toxic, recyclable EPDM roof, rubber floor, and paper cellulose insulation. 

Overall, AUAR’s system uses sustainable materials and decentralizes by localizing the fabrication and construction process, instead of importing materials or modular homes from far afield. This simultaneously reduces carbon footprint and increases community involvement. 

"For AUAR, people are central to automation. This starts with design. Our homes are not standard, one-size-fits-all spaces, but can be tailored and customized for every unique client, for each specific plot of land. As we use intelligent robotics and automation, it doesn't cost anything more to make a different home each time," says CTO Gilles Retsin.

"The importance we place on people extends throughout our short production chain from localized fabrication through to on-site construction, care and maintenance. This ensures that we leverage the benefits of automation in a way that directly adds to local communities, keeping them together when they might otherwise be displaced due to the housing crisis, whilst expanding local skillsets—not detracting from them," says CCO Claire McAndrew.

The next in AUAR’s series of Dwelling Units is due for completion by the end of December 2021 and showcases a different configuration of blocks. Scaling from small (10-15sqm/107-160sf), through to medium (15-25sqm/160-270sf) and large (25-50sqm/270-540sf), AUAR’s system offers housing that communities need at scales that positively impact daily lives. 

Project credits:

Design: Automated Architecture (AUAR Ltd); Team: Gilles Retsin, Mollie Claypool, Kevin Saey, Ivo Tedbury

Square footage: 10m2

Program: Workspace

Materials: Timber block, timber cladding, EPDM roof, rubber floor, paper cellulose insulation

Photography: naaro

Photography by naaro

Drawings courtesy AUAR

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About Automated Architecture (AUAR)

AUAR believes that to address the demands of the housing and climate crisis, construction cannot just be automated. It needs to be reinvented. We are revolutionising construction to empower people and communities to create better and more sustainable homes. We believe in healthy, inspiring and sustainable living environments that are designed by and for local communities. 

Our solution is a world first. We designed a modular building system that uses robotics and automation to deliver high quality, affordable, sustainable homes. The system consists of building blocks made from timber, a renewable material, which are robotically pre-fabricated and assembled into dwelling units with minimal material waste. Our software integrates the whole delivery process: from design to robotic assembly to procurement. The units can be easily customized based on site and context. Our approach radically reduces the production chain. One industrial robot can be a factory, embedded in local communities that need housing, providing opportunities for upskilling local labour and creating new kinds of jobs. 

AUAR’s team includes recognised leaders in our areas of work including automation, generative design, AI, design, community. Some of AUAR’s work is in high profile museum collections such as the Centre Pompidou, we have written books and been featured in the press (Wired, BBC, SkyNews, The Guardian, Mashable). In 2019 we wrote a book on the topic of automation in architecture called Robotic Building: Architecture in the Age of Automation. In 2020 we designed and built Block West in partnership with our UCL research laboratory AUAR Labs, local residents in Knowle West, Bristol and citizen-led digital arts organisation Knowle West Media Centre. Block West won the AJ Small Projects Award for Social Sustainability in 2021. 

Co-Founder Bios:

Mollie Claypool, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer

Mollie is a leading architecture theorist focused on issues of social justice highlighted by increasing automation in architecture and design production, and the potential of automation in architecture and the built environment to provide more socially engaged and environmentally sustainable ways of designing and building. Mollie is co-author of Robotic Building: Architecture in the Age of Automation (Detail Edition 2019) and author of the SPACE10 report “The Digital in Architecture: Then, Now and in the Future” (2019). She is also Associate Professor in Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. At The Bartlett she is Co-Director of AUAR Labs and History & Theory Coordinator in MArch Architectural Design. She is the Managing Editor of Prospectives, an open access peer reviewed journal supported by The Bartlett. Mollie has studied at Pratt Institute, AA School of Architecture and The Bartlett.

Gilles Retsin, Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer

Gilles is an architect, educator and thinker working at the intersection of computation, fabrication and architecture. His design work and critical discourse has been internationally recognised through awards, lectures and exhibitions at major cultural institutions such as the Museum of Art and Design in New York, the Royal Academy in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He edited an issue of Architectural Design (AD) (Wiley, 2019) and co-authored Robotic Building: Architecture in the Age of Automation (Detail Edition 2019). Gilles is also Associate Professor in Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. At the Bartlett he is Co-Director of AUAR Labs and Programme Director of the MArch Architectural Design at UCL. He studied architecture in Belgium, Chile and the UK, where he graduated from the Architectural Association. 

Claire McAndrew, Co-Founder & Chief Communities Officer 

Claire is a social scientist that works across architecture and practices of care. She focuses on new frameworks for participation — drawing upon contemporary theory, research and debate around architecture, technology, community and public engagement in the production of the built environment. Her writing and practice consider the use of co-design methodologies to shift social practices, inform public policy and enact more care-full capacities. Claire is Director of Public Engagement and Co-Director of AUAR Labs at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Team Bios: 

David Doria, Computational Designer

David is an architect and urbanist interested in the technical and political implications of automation, artificial intelligence, computational design and fabrication. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Urbanism from the Federal University of Sergipe and an MArch Architectural Design from The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Kevin Saey, Designer & Developer

Kevin Saey is an architect and researcher in automation, digital fabrication and computational design with a background in game design. Kevin studied Digital Arts and Entertainment at University College West Flanders, MSci in Architecture at KU Leuven and MArch Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Danae Parissi, Computational Designer

Danaë is an architect interested in bringing together the traditional discipline of architecture with cutting edge computational theory, to explore new interdisciplinary paths of design. She has completed her integrated MArch at the NTUA School of Architecture and an MSc in Architectural Computation at the The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Robert Pavlovskis, Creative Technologist

Robert is a developer and technologist interested in digital spaces, interaction design, games and new media art. With a particular focus on real-time rendering and 3D graphics. He holds a BSc in Creative Computing from Goldsmiths University of London, and has a background in Art & Design.

Ivo Tedbury, Systems Designer

Ivo is an architectural designer and robotics developer interested in integrated building design, engineering and robot fabrication. He has broad experience designing and building custom hardware and software, and holds BSc and MArch in Architecture, and MRes Architectural Computation from the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Nikolaos Tsikinis, XR Developer

Nikolaos is a developer interested in all things XR with a background in computer science. He studied Informatics and Telecommunications at University of Athens, a MSc in Computer Science at Athens University of Economics and Business and a MRes in Virtual Reality at University College London.


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