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FLEX Explores New Potentials of Natural Materials with Robotic Fabrication

Images: Samantha Martinez

We had a conversation with Dr. Elif Erdine, director of the FLEX project, who explores the potential of active bending through robotic bundling and bending of rattan canes.

How did the idea of the FLEX project, in which you investigate the potentials of active bending through robotic bundling and bending of rattan canes, come about? We would like to listen to the project's story in which students and academics also play an active role.

The idea for the FLEX project came from the desire to combine both the growing interest in the sustainability of natural materials and the possibilities offered by robotic fabrication. Rattan reeds, as a biodegradable, renewable resource, stood out as an ideal material to explore the potential of sustainable construction materials. In addition, robotic fabrication has the potential to offer much more precise and innovative approaches, especially in bending and bundling.

The idea to initiate the project came from the desire to explore new ways of architectural form and structural integrity by combining the natural properties of materials and the potential of robotic fabrication. Furthermore, the bendability of rattan canes provided an opportunity to investigate the material's potential for "active bending." Combining the intrinsic properties of the natural material and the precision that robotic technology can offer allowed us to achieve structural and aesthetic results that we had not previously tried or seen.

In the academic field, the active involvement of students and academics in the project enriched our approach. The students were very keen to push the boundaries of new techniques and materials, both theoretically and practically. The theoretical knowledge and experience provided by the academics guided the students' vision and technical skills, which increased the project's success.

How did the design process of the building that combines robotic production and natural materials develop? How did simulation methods and structural analyses shape your design decisions during the design process?

In the FLEX project, the combination of robotic manufacturing and natural materials played a critical role in both the concept and production phases of the design. The main objective of the project was to maximize the potential of rattan canes, a natural material, through robotic manufacturing techniques. This meant understanding the natural properties of the material and investigating how these properties could be optimized by robotic fabrication.

Simulation methods played a critical role in our design process. In particular, an "active bending simulation" was performed for rattan canes bundled in different quantities and lengths. This simulation helped us to understand how much the rattan canes resist bending and what effect this bending has on the structure. At the same time, we subjected the rattan canes to a material load test to ensure that the results obtained with the digital simulations are valid in the physical world. This allowed us better to match the simulation parameters to real-world material behavior.

In addition, we conducted in-depth analyses to understand the trade-off between structural performance and form using Finite Element Analysis. This analysis was critical as part of the form-finding process. Thanks to the finite element method, it was possible to understand the stress and load distribution in specific parts of the design and use this information in our design decisions.

As a result, simulation and structural analysis methods played a central role in our design process. These methods provided critical information on combining our aesthetic and functional goals with the properties of natural materials and robotic manufacturing techniques. Our design decisions became informed, scientific, and purposeful thanks to these analyses and simulations.

Compared to traditional building materials, what are the advantages of using rattan canes, a renewable and biodegradable resource? What do you think about the impact of your project on environmental sustainability?

Rattan canes have several distinct advantages compared to traditional building materials:

Sustainability: Rattan cane is a rapidly renewable resource. This means that it is a rapidly growing resource and can be harvested repeatedly in a given area. Thus, it provides a continuous source of material without causing long-term ecological damage.

Biodegradability: As rattan cane is a natural material, it degrades at the end of its useful life without harming the environment. This provides significant advantages in terms of waste management and long-term environmental impacts.

Low Carbon Footprint: The production, processing, and transport of rattan canes is less energy-intensive than most traditional building materials. This contributes to reducing the overall carbon footprint.

Flexibility: Rattan's natural flexibility, pliability, and lightweight allow for new and innovative approaches to design and construction.


"By exploring how natural materials such as rattan canes can be used in combination with advanced technology and robotic fabrication to produce modern and functional structures, we have combined both our aesthetic and sustainability goals."


Such projects can inspire other designers and architects to embrace and integrate sustainability into their practice. We believe that sustainability-oriented approaches such as the FLEX project have become even more critical, especially in this period when we are facing global problems such as climate change and the depletion of natural resources.

How can the FLEX project be a source of inspiration for larger-scale buildings in the future?

The FLEX project can serve as an inspiration for future large-scale construction in several critical areas:

Material Innovation: The discovery of the potential of natural and sustainable materials such as rattan canes shows that we can achieve similar or better structural and aesthetic results with conventional materials. This could encourage the use of a broader palette of materials for future large-scale structures.

Integration of Technology and Natural Materials: The successful integration of robotic manufacturing and digital simulation methods with natural materials reveals new ways in which emerging technological tools can be combined with raw materials.

Sustainability and Aesthetics: The FLEX project shows that sustainability does not compromise aesthetics. This means that designers can create innovative and attractive structures without compromising aesthetics while reducing environmental impact.

Our project offers a forward-looking perspective on material selection, design approach, production methods, and sustainability. With these characteristics, it can inspire more environmentally and aesthetically conscious and innovative design of large-scale structures.


Programme Directors

Dr. Elif Erdine, Dr. Milad Showkatbakhsh

AA Visiting School Director

Dr. Christopher Pierce

Teaching staff

Elif Erdine, Alexander Krolak, Angel Lara Moreira, Milad Showkatbakhsh

Teaching Assistant

Chengxuan Li


Laya Al Ibadi, Aeshah Alani, Yusuf Alperen Bayir, Rim Cherkaoui, Heloisa de Santis Alfredo, Ahmed Gewaily, Jiyeong Kim, Soki Kimura, Anna Kloos, Amalia Konstantinou, Luis Leon Escoda, Samanta Martinez, Ahmed Mitwally, Netra Mundada, Sudaksh Nigotiya, Zahra Parhizi, Yiru Wang, Hanqi Zhang


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