Drones in Construction

Terramia pavilions ... created for Milan Design Week 2019.

Terramia pavilions ... created for Milan Design Week 2019.

MuDD’s innovative use of drone sprays in limelight

August 2019

MuDD Architects recently developed a drone spraying equipment, in line with its focus on offering solutions for sustainable architecture, facade refurbishments and housing systems using local natural materials and novel technologies.

Developed by French architect Stephanie Chaltiel, founder of MuDD Architects, the drone spray has benefited from European funding and was launched on the market recently.

It has roped in Belgium company RC Take Off develop the drone in collaboration with UC Louvain University. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is fitted with a Eurmair spraying hose of different types and adapted for MuDD Architects projects. The drone can carry 25 kg and weighs only 8 kg itself.

Chaltiel has been experimenting with a variety of mud mixtures. She has fine-tuned them to be fitted in a drone, which can spray large amounts and have a constant flow of material. She also experimented with the types of fibres added to reinforce the material and prevent cracking. For a prototype in London for example, Chaltiel used linen fibres, which are thin, long, and break down in the machine so they don’t block the pump.

“These methods for new shotcrete construction introduces greener material to be employed and lighter equipment to be brought on site. It can be referenced as bioshotcrete (sprayed concrete),” Chaltiel tells Gulf Construction magazine.

She says the drone spray technique has been proven in many real-scale prototypes built since 2018 including in London and Milan city centres.

“It allows large-scale coating of freeform geometry architectures to be done in minutes and without the need for bespoke labour-intensive scaffolding,” she explains. “In addition, drone lifting combined with drone spraying could allow large-scale construction without the need for cranes.”

MuDD Architects is offering shotcreting by drones in many different projects around the world. It is currently working with a pluridisciplinary team on offering a drone spray piloted remotely in addition to some automated flights.

MuDD Architects upcoming projects include refurbishing of some existing facades in Europe to enhance the insulation, thus bringing about significant energy savings for the occupants thanks to the drone spraying technique.

Last month, Chaltiel joined forces with architect CanyaViva, and Summum Engineering to develop the Terramia pavilions for Milan Design Week 2019. These are innovative emergency housing prototypes developed by combining digital fabrication of mud-spraying drones with natural local materials.

The project consists of three doubly-curved shells, constructed from a bending-active formwork of locally sourced bamboo culms and CNC-cut jute fabric with circular windows made of transparent flexible PVC. These structures were sprayed with a clay/sand mortar mix, reinforced with rice husks, an agricultural by-product.

Chaltiel says the structures highlight that affordable and fast construction methods can lead to quality housing, and transform emergency housing from typically lightweight fabric into a system that is robust and durable.

“We have been investigating the use of digital technologies and earth construction. One outcome is the ongoing ‘bioshotcrete’ project. This idea borrows principles of shotcrete and wattle and daub, using exclusively natural local materials. Robots or drones are deployed in order to spray different layers of clay mix (daub) and a lightweight formwork (wattle).”

Chaltiel had used this technology to create wooden domes mounted with bags of hay and sprayed with mud in 2018.

She explains: “To make the home, first a wooden domed skeleton is constructed, on which bags of hay are mounted. Lastly, the drones spray a mixture of clay and fibres on the dome, binding the structure together. This way, the house becomes durable and weatherproof. Coating the dome would take weeks if it had to be done by hand, while the drone only needs a few minutes. The material is fed to the drone through a tube.”

The system could be used to build emergency housing in disaster areas or refugee camps, since the construction materials are readily available, and there is no scaffolding needed.

MuDD Architects has offices in Barcelona, Spain, and Dubai, the UAE.  

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