Special Subject: Architecture Design — The Tallhouse: Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA)

Permission of instructor

Note: subject meeting changed from MW 9:30-11 to TR 9:30-11, room 3-329

How are the buildings of the future being brought to life, and why aren’t architects at the forefront of that revolution? Advances in technology, materials, manufacturing techniques, and assembly have created tremendous growth in design/build-related industries like aerospace and automotive, but the AEC industry has largely failed to adopt these same techniques and processes.  

Some have recognized this extraordinary inefficiency and are developing responses using lessons learned in other industries. In particular, sectors of the industry are beginning to adopt Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), a design and technology pipeline which puts questions of manufacturing and assembly at the front end of the design discourse. This technique has huge potential benefits for the industry, but requires designers who are well-trained in the techniques of DfMA (understanding manufacturing processes, constraints, parameters, assembly sequences and scheduling, and on-site logistics) to implement these new and exciting methods. The pedagogical aim of this course is to help architects gain agency over their own work by deeply involving them in its realization. Too often, students enter industry with a wealth of ideas about how to improve practice and the built environment, but are frozen out of the actual making of these buildings by technical processes and industry practices they don’t understand and, therefore, have little agency over. With these skills and relationships, architects can once again take the lead on building projects and reposition themselves as master builders.

In the workshop, students will develop building solutions in collaboration with cutting-edge industry experts. This is an opportunity to learn the skills necessary to thrive in an environment that is beginning to adopt design for manufacturing and assembly, prefabrication, and industrial wood products as core parts of its design and building capabilities.

This burgeoning design discipline perfectly coincides with another sea-change the industry is now facing: the rise of mass timber and industrial wood buildings. In the United States, manufacturing capability is rapidly increasing, with code acceptance and industry knowledge growing in tandem. Industrial wood is a force multiplier for DfMA because it is easily pre-fabricated and assembly processes on-site are simple and easy to learn. 

Students in this workshop will work in a collaborative environment to test massing, structural, and façade studies of a mid-rise multi-family residential “test” building proposed for the Greater Boston Area. Through this workshop, students will learn how to apply the first principles of design for manufacturing and assembly to this timber mid-rise building, and how to integrate pre-fabrication considerations into the earliest stages of the process. This initiative is being supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, and is part of a wider-ranging effort to create a sustainable market for timber products in the Northeast. All graduate students in the School of Architecture and Planning are welcome to participate, with special emphasis on those in the Architectural Design, Computation, and Building Technology disciplines.

The workshop will focus on developing skills and background in manufacturing and assembly, and let students test ways to exploit and maximize the usefulness of manufacturing and assembly processes in an academic, iterative design process. These solutions will be prepared with the help of experts from within and without the department. It is related to the wider Mass Timber Design framework at MIT, but will equip students with critical skills and a deep background knowledge in these cutting-edge processes to enable them to engage productively with the rapidly changing AEC industry in the 21st century.