Living Prototypes
Digital Fabrication With Biomaterials



A collaborative European research project on digitally fabricated building components made with bio-based materials, involving three university institutes and three industry partners from Denmark, Germany, Italy and Spain. Living Prototypes was instigated by ANCB and supported by the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) on behalf of the German Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building with funds from the research innovation programme Zukunft Bau.

Keyvisual © Hanzer Liccini

Over the course of 18 months, three university institutes will collaborate with three industry partners on digitally fabricating prototypes for building components for living spaces made with the bio-based materials earth, flax fibre and bioplastics.


Two workshops in Berlin and Barcelona during the course of the research project will instigate a discourse around a digital building culture, the uptake of digital fabrication in the building industry, the use of resource-efficient materials and the lifecycle of buildings.

The project will cuminate in an exhibition at Aedes Architecture Forum, where three separate prototypes made of earth, flax fibre and bioplastic, will be brought together in a 1:1 scale installation built around a typical floorplan of a 1-bedroom apartment. Contextual and supporting information will include visualisations of the architecture possible with these biomaterials and digital fabrication methods, and a selection of sample raw materials, test models and scaled prototypes from further explorations by each research team. Video and photographic material will show the development of the biomaterials and building prototypes over the course of the Living Prototypes project.

The final symposium on the afternoon of the exhibition opening will focus on what designing with biomaterials and digital fabrication might mean for architectural thinking and design.


What might our homes look and feel like if they were built without using fossil fuels, without depleting resources or damaging the environment? What if advanced research into bio-based building materials could change architectural design and building construction? How can architectural prototypes communicate knowledge about resource-conscious design and construction processes? These questions are at the core of Living Prototypes .

Central to the project is the task of translating abstract laboratory explorations into something physically tangible and recognisable, that enables us – the public – as well as the building industry and policy-makers to imagine the kinds of spaces and architecture that new bio-based materials with digital construction techniques make possible. ANCB provides the project with a physical and intellectual space of possibility, that supports collaboration and experimentation on research approaches and new materials towards sustainable building. In essence, Living Prototypes is about triggering the political pressure to innovate the way we build (in) the future.

Today, the urgent need to reduce our anthropogenic footprints of carbon dioxide emissions, resource consumption and waste production is undisputable. Considering that today around 40 % of the total CO2 emissions in Germany stem from the construction, use or dismantling of buildings, it is clear that there is still a long way to go before the objective already established by law is met: a climate-neutral building stock by 2045.

In 2017, ANCB launched the discussion series Craftsmanship in the Digital Age also in collaboration with the Zukunft Bau programme. This explored the potential of digital technologies to trigger innovative responses to the design and making of architecture; especially regarding energy and resource sustainability. With the Living Prototypes project, a follow-up step is taken from a theoretical discourse to an experiment that the audience can see, touch and discuss.

Research provides many promising proposals, but there is always a risk that the results remain in the ivory tower or disappear into the drawer. To avoid this, it is essential to build a bridge between scientific results, their translation into practical applications and their communication to a broad audience. Therefore, one aim of the Living Prototypes project is to provide such a bridging space: here ideas merge to solve a common task: the design and making of a full-scale prototype that demonstrates the potential of natural and bio-based recycled materials in combination with the latest techniques in digital fabrication.


University partner: IAAC – Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, Barcelona
Industry partner: WASP, Massa Lombarda

Earth is a traditional and inexpensive building material, for which extensive knowledge exists. IAAC and WASP employ 3D printing and computational design to improve the structural and climate-regulation performance of earth constructions. This also enables a new flexibility in the architecture achievable with this biomaterial, advances its aesthetic capacity, and makes the construction process more efficient and feasible for infill and other forms of built environment densification.

University partner: ITKE – Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design, University of Stuttgart
Industry partner: FibR GmbH, Kernen

Robotic coreless fibre winding aims to optimise material efficiency in architectural components by avoiding formwork and material cutoffs. Material use corresponds to structural demands. ITKE and FibR investigated robotic coreless fibre winding using natural flax fibres. Through the inter-material dialogue with other living prototypes at the Aedes exhibition, the project communicates the relevance of such material systems in future living spaces.

University partner: CITA – Centre for Information Technology and Architecture, Royal Danish Academy, Copenhagen
Industry partner: COBOD International A/S, Copenhagen

Bioplastics are renewable, inexpensive, biodegradable and chemically diverse. Digital data analysis technologies, such as machine learning, make it possible to predict and control the behaviour of these complex materials during and after the printing process. CITA and COBOD prototype components for interior spaces using two complementary bio-based materials (cellulose and bone glue). These suggest future circular material life cycles in buildings that are made possible by this adaptive manufacturing process.

This project is supported by the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development on behalf of the German Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building with funds from the research innovation programme Zukunft Bau.


ANCB Partners

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