Design Decoded: The Architecture of Drones

drone architecture
Gramazio & Kohler, Flight Assembled Architecdture, FRAC Centre in Orléans, France, 2011-2012                               (image: François Lauginie via Gramazio & Kohler)

Drones can’t just destroy, they can build. Although the military uses of drones are widely debated, less discussed are their potentially revolutionary civilian implications. They aren’t yet widespread, but drones are being used by hobbyistsphotographersfarmersranchers, and they may even herald an entirely new type of architecture. Last year, Swiss architects Gramazio & Kohler, in collaboration with Raffaello D’Andrea, developed “Flight Assembled Architecture” – an experimental concept structure that employed small, unmanned aerial vehicles programmed to build.

Created as an installation for the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France in early 2012, the project models a speculative construction system that integrates robotics, digital fabrication, engineering, and design. Several small robotic “quadrocopters” lift 1,500 foam blocks into a complex cylindrical tower standing more than six meters high. The tower is a model for a speculative future habitat that would stand more than 600 meters tall and house 30,000 inhabitants. It makes sense to illustrate such a revolutionary concept with a skyscraper – after all, the skyscraper wouldn’t be possible if architects and engineers hadn’t embraced technologies such as steel construction and elevators. Construction drones are the bleeding edge of speculative building technology and they’re perfectly designed to create high-rise buildings in urban areas where construction can be incredibly difficult and costly. As Kohler noted in an essay for the architectural journal Log, “the conditions of aerial robotic construction are entirely liberated from the bottom-up accessibility of material, man, or [existing] machine.” These robots can create buildings without erecting scaffolding or using cranes. Drone-built designs aren’t beholden to current construction limitations and their use opens up a new possibility of architectural forms.

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Jimmy Stamp

Jimmy Stamp is a freelance writer, researcher, and recovering architect. He has contributed to The Guardian, Wired, Smithsonian, The Journal of Architectural Education, and many other websites and publications. His first book Pedagogy and Place: 100 Years of Architecture Education at Yale comes out in spring 2016. If you're looking for writer with a penchant for Piranesi and pop culture, or if you just want to say hi, you can find him on twitter @LifeSansBldgs or instagram or email him at

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