How to Build a House: Architectural Research in the Digital Age

An exhibition of the DFAB House and the pioneering work of Swiss architects Gramazio & Kohler.

Photo by Roman Kelller, courtesy of ETH Zurich

Event Details


swissnex San Francisco
Pier 17, Suite 800, San Francisco, California 94111 United States


March 12, 2019 1:00 pm - June 28, 2019 5:00 pm America/Los Angeles (UTC-08:00)

Digital technologies promise to transform today’s approach to architecture and construction. How to Build a House presents the far-reaching transformations affecting the way we build — and the social, economic and ecological logic of how we make things.

The exhibition, created by Gramazio Kohler Research and the chair for Digital Building Technologies at ETH Zurich, is a visual journey through research on the digital transformation of architecture and construction. It reveals the conception and making of the DFAB HOUSE: A three-story experimental building demonstrating the pioneering research in computational design and digital fabrication being conducted by architects in collaboration with experts in fields ranging from robotics to material science.

Together, they jointly created the first fully inhabitable building from the labs of ETH Zurich; a building that moves the boundaries of what robotics and 3D printing in architecture can do today. The exhibit is an entry point into understanding the digital as a novel domain for architects to draw from at each step of the design, fabrication, and assembly of a building.

Although driven by technology, its impact goes far beyond automation and optimization. As a new paradigm, the computational in architecture provides answers to changing societal needs and ecological challenges, while reforming aesthetic principles and establishing a new sense of beauty in architecture.


Fabio Gramazio

Fabio Gramazio

Fabio Gramazio is an architect with multi-disciplinary interests ranging from computational design and robotic fabrication to material innovation. In 2000, he founded the architecture practice Gramazio & Kohler in conjunction with his partner Matthias Kohler, where numerous award-wining designs have been realized. Current projects include the design of the Empa NEST research platform, a future living and working laboratory for sustainable building construction. Opening also the world’s first architectural robotic laboratory at ETH Zurich, Gramazio & Kohler’s research has been formative in the field of digital architecture, setting precedence and de facto creating a new research field merging advanced architectural design and additive fabrication processes through the customized use of industrial robots. This ranges from 1:1 prototype installations to the design of robotically fabricated high-rises. The recent research is outlined and theoretically framed in the book The Robotic Touch: How Robots Change Architecture (Park Books, 2014). Since 2017, Fabio Gramazio is Director of Studies at the Department of Architecture.

Matthias Kohler

Mathias Kohler ©Norman Foster FoundationMatthias Kohler is an architect with multi-disciplinary interests ranging from computational design and robotic fabrication to material innovation. In 2000, he founded the award winning architecture practice Gramazio Kohler Architects together with his partner Fabio Gramazio. Both partners are full professors at ETH Zurich, where they jointly lead Gramazio Kohler Research. Having initiated the world’s first architectural robotic laboratory in 2005, the group today consists of thirty researchers dedicated to advancing architecture and construction through computational methods and robotic technology with a special emphasis on material systems that are ecologically sound. This ranges from 1:1 prototypical installations to the design and construction of building systems and large-scale elements such as the roof of the Arch_Tec_Lab at ETH Zurich. From 2014 to 2017, Matthias Kohler has also been the director of the NCCR Digital Fabrication, the first National Centre of Competence in Research in the field of architecture funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

DFAB House

DFAB HOUSE is a collaborative demonstrator of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication on the NEST building of Empa and Eawag. As part of the full-featured building project, researchers from eight ETH Zurich professorships have come together with industry experts and planning professionals in a unique way to explore and test how digital fabrication can change the way we design and build.

Gramazio Kohler Research

The work of Gramazio Kohler Research has been published widely. Numerous exhibitions around the world have contributed to their recognition as global leaders in the field of digital and robotic fabrication in architecture. This includes the Architecture Biennale in Venice (2008), the Storefront Gallery for Art and Architecture New York (2009), the FRAC Centre Orléans (2011), Centre Pompidou Paris (2017), MuDA Zurich (2017) and Istituto Svizzero Sede di Milano (2017) –Their work has been summarized in their comprehensive monograph The Robotic Touch – How Robots Change Architecture (Park Books, 2014).

Photo: Roman Kelller, courtesy of ETH Zurich.