Emergent Technologies and Design program was founded in 2001 by Dr. Michael Weinstock, Director of Research and Development at the Architectural Association, Achim Menges, founding Director of the Institute for Computational Design and Michael Hensel, Director at the Research Centre for Architectural Tectonics in the Institute for Architecture at AHO.
It received its first validation from the Open University in 2001 offering post-professional MSc and MArch degrees.
Professor George Jeronimidis, Director of the Centre of Biomimetics at the University of Reading, joined the Programme in 2002, bringing his long experience of the analysis of biological systems and the application of abstracted principles to the design and development of engineering structures and material systems across a range of scales and industries.
Since 2019 the programme is led by Dr. Elif Erdine, who is joined by Milad Showkatbakhsh, Eleana Polychronaki, Felipe Oeyen, and Lorenzo Santelli. Teaching faculty in EmTech are a diverse group of architects and researchers with specialisations in computational tool making and complex modelling.
The programme is structured around two distinct phases. Phase 1 runs for the first two terms of the academic year and provides an introduction to the principles of complex material and urban systems. A series of studio workshops, seminars and design projects are led by EmTech staff and our associated researchers and offer a creative and intellectually rigorous sequence that builds knowledge and skill. It concludes with guiding students through the formation of a detailed proposal for an original architectural inquiry that is to be pursued in the Dissertation.
Phase 2 runs for the third and fourth term of the academic year and is dedicated to the development of research based Design Dissertations. It extends the acquisition of research competencies through extensive collaborative dialogue with EmTech’s research community of active Post Doc researchers and PhD candidates. Students integrate explorations of the theoretical discourses, relevant sciences and case studies of ‘state of the art’ projects in the domain of their chosen topic and set out the methods and protocols for the development of their Design Proposal. The development and conclusion of the final proposal is pursued through the iterative design cycles that students have acquired knowledge and skills in during the early phases of the programme.
Active Material Systems with Advanced Fabrication
Different material systems are studied at multiple scales as model for material, spatial and systemic organization. Physical and digital computational techniques are explored to express these qualities and lead to the development of dynamic system models. With inputs from advanced fabrication techniques and tools, the development of novel material systems and fabrication techniques is enabled at an architectural scale, that respond to the dynamic changes of their environment. Computational tools enable a synthesized approach to design, enabling direct feedback between generative design, materialisation, and production processes. With the developments in digital fabrication, the production and assembly of complex forms has been compromised by the constraints of selected fabrication techniques. In recent years, robotic fabrication processes implemented in architecture have begun to incorporate digital and physical paradigms in an unparalleled way due to the multi-axis freedom of an industrial robot arm, its speed, precision, and low tolerances.
Ecological Urban Design in Emergent Biomes
Natural Ecological Systems Design studies ecological systems in extreme climates that function both as a place of food production and a place of inhabitation for people. Focus is currently placed on biomes affected by climate change which constitute complex topographical and hydrological networks, associated with patterns of urban clusters and active productive landscapes. The interrelations between these parts are woven into a multi-scalar system that actively responds to the changes of its natural environment and the demands for infrastructure and production. Models for new cities in emergent biomes are formulated with computational modelling and simulation methods. The research area is founded on the logic that the patterns of human inhabitation are determined by the needs of the infrastructure of the ecology – designed, grown and developed as integrated natural and cultural systems, with the ambition to be resilient to change.
Design & Build
Design & Build is our ‘extracurricular’ collaborative student project and is an essential part of the pedagogy and culture of EmTech. It runs right through the year, alongside both Studio and the Dissertation, and provides opportunities to design and deliver a built project with real material, structural, fabrication and assembly constraints. The experience gained enhances the design, computational and analytical skills students have acquired in Studio, and it develops crucial transferrable skills that are applicable to professional practice. Our Design & Build projects have been published internationally in the architectural press since 2001 and have received industry awards.
Student life in EmTech is characterized by the strong emphasis on team work and the knowledge developed in a collaborative learning and research environment. Students work in small teams throughout the year on the studio projects, workshops and seminar courses and choose their own team and topic for their Dissertation. The high student to tutor ratio promotes a strong collaboration between staff and students and allows for personalized tutorials and instructions. Student life in the programme provides additional opportunities for learning as all tutorials and instructions take place in open studio, and students attend and participate in all presentations by their colleagues in the programme. These characteristics enhance the creation of a vivid everyday environment within the EmTech studio, promoting the development of a strongly connected community between the students and the continuous exchange of ideas and skills.
The Emergent Technologies and Design programme has a long term collaboration with Mike Cook, Partner at Buro Happold and Vice-President of the Board of the Institution of Structural Engineers, and Wolf Mangelsdorf, Partner at Buro Happold’s New York office. This collaboration is founded on the shared interest in the translation of natural systems into design principles with the use of the highest level of design and technology methodologies. This has been the driver in the design and delivery of innovative structures and their collaboration with lead offices worldwide.
Specialized topic led collaborations are also established between professionals and academics, offering their expertise and professional accomplishments in a variety of scales and digital methods. These include Lars Hesselgren, Director of Research at PLP Architecture and Suryansh Chandra, Co-Founder at Automata amongst others.