GREECE: File to factory architecture

The construction industry has always aimed for closer cooperation - between architects and builders, academics and practitioners, theory and practice, design and materials, teaching methods and practical application.

But reality usually fails to match ambition. Now an exhibition based on students' research attempts to provide the missing links.

'Architectural Design and Construction: From the school laboratory to the factory' is organised by the Architectural Department of the Polytechnic School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

It features the projects students carried out during a two-year educational research programme 'File to Factory Continuum', or 'F2F Continuum', which examines and expands the relationship between digital design and construction. The exhibition is housed at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki.

F2F Continuum is part of the 'Multilateral projects, cooperation between universities and enterprises - lifelong learning' category. This aims to bring the architecture school closer to carefully selected small and medium-sized enterprises producing building materials which use the latest computer aided manufacturing and computer numerically controlled, or CAM-CNC, technologies.

The objective is to exchange research results, information, ideas, techniques, methods, experiences and expertise relating not only to the digital means of designing structural materials but also to the process of their industrial production.

Many buildings are nowadays designed within certain constant parametric design procedures, integrally using special computer software which easily and quickly processes all the parameters of design demands and creates a final electronic design.

Using the latest CAM-CNC techniques, the digitally designed 'product' could itself digitally direct the process of its own production, ensuring with the support of a compatible programme the so-called 'continuum from file to factory'.

Technological advances make this continuing process an increasingly common practice in the production of structural elements both with undisputed potential and also with immediate effects in the process of structural design.

The continuum from design to construction constitutes a new convention in the process of producing a structural environment, while closer examination of, and experimentation with, its possibilities in the area of design and teaching make it an essential element in the training of the modern architect.

But, claim the organisers, "neither the research carried out by the universities nor developments in the construction industry itself are coming together either creatively or complementarily."

Although both sides could easily meet and eliminate their weaknesses and enhance their undoubted strengths, they have remained stubbornly apart. This has had negative consequences for innovation, the creative search for new means of expression and materials, and for the production of new architectural forms through the use of improved digital technological applications.

Academics with an intense interest in research are available in the universities, but without an adequate infrastructure to experiment and test their ideas. Meanwhile industry possesses suitable infrastructure but not the scope, freedom or quality of academic research.

Moreover, although teachers of architecture are obliged to follow contemporary trends and modifications in design and construction of modern buildings in order to update their educational strategies and methods, they very rarely convey these to the building industry. The industry, in its turn, tries tentatively to adjust and respond to these new needs and developments.

So the F2F Continuum programme has developed activities such as student workshops, visits to factories using cutting-edge CAM-CNC techniques, and joint student-enterprise seminars and laboratories. It has also devised new methods of teaching relevant to new demands.

More than a dozen leading universities and several small to medium-sized enterprises from Greece, England, Spain, Austria and France are collaborating in the programme. They include Les Grands Ateliers de l'Isle d'Abeau, a teaching and research centre organised by several French architecture, engineering and fine arts schools where students experiment with the use of innovative materials and structural methods.

The aims of the F2F collaboration include:

* Exchange of information, knowledge and experience between academics, researchers and the industry about architectural trends and demands.
* Enrichment of educational material for courses of architectural design and construction, including for the promotion of new approaches to design, innovative methods of tuition and pedagogical strategies.
* Bringing students closer to the real conditions in the building environment and familiarising them with the rationale of design, materials and construction as an integral part of architectural design.
* Facilitating student access to areas of production, and encouraging an interest in experimentation and scientific research in the creation of new materials and innovative techniques.
* Opening new avenues for research to support new programmes in participating schools.
* Exchanging with enterprises the results of research, new ideas and directions, as well as problems, arising from contemporary discussions about architecture and trends within the architectural avant-garde.
* Bringing students closer to the production of structural elements and materials to create a more effective cooperation with the construction industry for their future professional careers.

As well as the exhibition of project prototypes and activities an international symposium was organised.

A web portal has also been established for exchange of information, dissemination of results and activities, promotion of components and presentation of techniques and equipment possessed by the enterprises involved, virtual tutorials and videos. A hard copy volume records activities, reflections and experiences of the life-cycle of the project.

The project aims to inform students of architecture, researchers, teachers, enterprise staff and practising architects about the state-of-the-art of parametric design and manufacture of structural components.

This, it is hoped, will raise the quality of architectural teaching and research on design and construction, reinstate the relationship between architectural education and the building industry and above all establish and cultivate the relationship between universities and small to medium sized enterprises that strive towards innovation through profound investigation and improved knowledge.