Beyond the Mold, Fabricator Andreas Froech Goes Machineous

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Fabricator Andreas Froech at his Culver City shop

If you think about it, the work of Machineous, the brainchild of fabricator Andreas Froech is simple. Use six-axis robotic milling equipment to eliminate the need for molds. Of course, the architecture that results from its applications could be entirely something.

And getting there? Froech, who segued into the art of fabrication during his time as an architect in Greg Lynn’s FORM and honed his skills in a project for OMA, spent the last three-and-a-half years in a shop laboriously defining the machine’s limits in order to offer architects the limitless.

The fabricator will present his findings at the Monterey Design Conference in October, but we slipped into his shop located in a rough-hewn industrial area of Culver City to get this preview.

Lets talk about how you see the six-axis robotic equipment at Machineous’ core.
The goal of Machineous’ work is to find out how the robotic technology can integrate with architecture.

The rippling walls of architect Patrick Tighe’s ‘Out of Memory’ as executed by Machineous.

I was looking for CNC technology, a very large machine. Initially, I was working with a company in Canada to develop my own design.

We started the process, designing it, figuring out what it would cost, etc. etc. And [during this time] the collapse of the car industry yielded all these robots. They had to shut down a Chrysler plant within a week. And there were hundreds of robots in there and they’re huge and they’re fantastic and they work like nothing else in the world. And you could buy–for a tenth of the price of the original–you could buy a brand new robot.

So I got these three large robots. And the robot, it’s a pretty good machine and it can do almost everything that needs to be done. Because it’s all about having an arm, an armature to hold a tool–a spindle, or a saw, or a welder, or whatever it is. It can be anything. So it can operate on a material. Mostly it’s a router or a spindle, to cut it out 2-D, or mill solid material, anything from foam to hard wood.

How it fits in for me? It’s kind of easy. When I was in fabrication with Panelite, I had to produce a shop drawing of a design in the computer to be communicated to a worker. There’s a lot of room for error. It works, but it’s a lot of work and it’s stressful. With a machine, that all falls away.

The modeling software just gets translated, scripted into a stream of the same data points, just differently organized, so that the robot can read those same numbers and [it] produces what’s on screen. You have to mostly break it apart into components, you can’t do the whole thing in one shot–that would be printing.

So the robot is limitless in that it can work with a huge array of tools, which would therefore give objects a huge array of finishes, shapes, textures.
There is an economy embedded in it which I have to learn. There are limits. [Understanding them] is related to practice. Knowing, having done it many many times, you understand what works better than other shapes or other openings.

What I’ve been doing the last two-and-a-half years—[is discovering] what is feasible. These machines are very large and they are taking space and you have to share the space with the material.

Froech translated Tighe’s 3-D digital model into software instructions for a six-axis robot affixed with chainsaw blades one of a number of tools he can harness.

There’s also a material question. What is the material that works best for this process? What are the groups of material? And what are the applications that can benefit from it most? I think the applications that I’ve been doing so far—is anything from furniture scale to façade-scale.

It’s this reductive process, where what you save is the mold, you don’t mold it, you carve it.

You worked with your wife and her business partner on a number of materials for their company Panelite. Once the fabrication process for these materials are developed they can be mass-produced. Will the work of the six-axis robot that produces Machineous work always be all-custom, or do you foresee its possibilities in terms of manufacturing?
That’s going to happen. I’m in the process [of defining its manufacturing capabilities], and I’m probably going to show a lot of [what I have discovered] in the speech in October [at the Monterey Design Conference].

When Machineous started three and half years ago, I was taking on one-hundred percent custom projects because the idea was to find out–where [are the parameters] of its digital fabrication and how does it tie into the desire of architecture. Exactly, where is that slot.

[So the last three years have been spent] understanding the desire of architecture in a much deeper sense: architecture coming out of the scripting, the complex modeling, and to do as many [projects] as possible with different materials to really understand what could tie all this together, so that I could step away from the custom and come up with a system that would allow architecture to fulfill its desires. And I’m fascinated by that, by this challenge to take on this desire, and create as much room as possible for this desire to unfold and become physical and real.

My belief is that it’s up to us fabricators and construction companies to understand how architects think and to create a much better relationship. Rather than this problem loaded—it’s a fight!


Check back to learn more about Froech’s work with Panelite, OMA, and his insight on the differences between European and American architects.

Need extended education credits? Want to hear Barcelona’s Borja Ferrater speak? You can do both by attending the MDC. Don’t put off registering.

Who else will speak? Hint: Dr. Dickson Despommier, PhD, Jeanne Gang, FAIA LEED AP and more.

Why are so many architects privately giving kudos to Mark Mack?

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