Informal Material Formations


Is it possible to conceive smart design-to-production processes that adjust in real time to the available material resources? Can the design space leave aspects undefined until the very moment of robotic assembly? Informal Material Formations investigates the role of computer vision, online robotic control and computational design strategies in a newly responsive, informal design-to-production process. This novel approach allows designers to encode responsive intelligence into robotic manipulation of uncertain material flows, embracing uncertainty and chance.

The workshop invites participants to explore the opportunities that arise when unpredictable scrap materials is to be configured into desirable design outcomes. This involves rethinking the essence of ‘design’ itself. In the workshop design is the constant negotiation between what is desired and what is available, what is fixed and what is open-ended, what is controlled by designers and what is managed by the system. After introducing the theoretical framework for Informal Material Formation the workshop directly engages participants by exploring the enabling custom interface for Rhino and Grasshopper (developed at Harvard GSD). This environment computationally coordinates the computer vision system and its related robotic motion with the design input from participants. Participants will be able to pursue their own design interests and agendas within this framework, with a focus on physical prototyping of experimental designs.

Location: Carnegie Mellon University

What participants can expect to learn in this workshop

Participants will learn the fundamental principles of real-time material feedback primarily through hands-on experimentation. They will develop individual approaches to design for uncertain material flows. Doing so will involve the immersion into actual programming of adaptive design projects using the new Harvard GSD interface for Grasshopper. Through our focus on experimental methods and physical prototyping participants will engage in and contribute to the current discourse on responsive design robotics.


Familiarity with Rhino 5.0 and Grasshopper, programming or scripting skills not required, nor experience in the use of robots. The technical level of the course will be adjusted to the participants’ backgrounds.
Participants are required to bring their own laptops with Windows, Rhino 5.0 (recommended: 32bits), and Grasshopper. Specific libraries and software will be provided by presenters.

Robotic Specification

– ABB IRB 140 Industrial Robots

Workshop Schedule

Day 1
Morning: Workflow Introductions: Basic principles of traditional and real-time material-feedback systems. Introduction to the custom interface for Grasshopper. Demonstration of several applications.
Afternoon: Participants will experiment with examples provided by instructors, and develop individual design proposals. The presenters will help conceptualize and implement the required material feedback system.

Day 2
Morning: Pin-up and discussion about the participant’s design proposals and production strategies. Brainstorming and selection of a collective design proposal.
Afternoon: Preparation of the final project. Initial tests, adjustments, and iterations.

Day 3
Morning: development and execution of the final project.
02:00pm: Closing discussion and preparation to move to the conference.

Workshop Presenters

Felix Raspall – Graz University of Technology
Felix Raspall is an architectural designer and researcher, working at the intersection of traditional building methods with digital design and fabrication. His current research at Harvard University focuses on applications of digital technologies as a means to expand the structural and formal limits of artisanal design and construction. Felix holds professional and post-professional degrees in architecture from the University of Buenos Aires and Yale University; at present, he is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University. He conducts teaching and research on design and technology in several institutions, most recently as visiting professor at TU Graz.

Felix Amtsberg – Graz University of Technology
Felix Amtsberg is Scientific Assistant at the Institute for Structural Design (ITE) at the Graz University of Technology. He is lecturing at the ABB-Robotic Lab at the ITE and teaches Bachelor and Master Students in architecture, specialized in the field of digital fabrication and robotic use. His current work focusses on the development of adaptive production processes for Freeform Structures.

Martin Bechthold – Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Martin Bechthold is Professor of Architectural Technology at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.