BVN Architecture and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have collaborated on a project dubbed ‘Systems Reef 2’ (SR2), that is an alternative to standard air distribution amongst buildings. SR2 is the world’s first robotically 3D-printed air-diffusion system, and replaces the stereotypical elements of our air conditioning systems with smarter alternatives.
SR2 utilises recycled plastic as opposed to steel, favours aerodynamic curves over square corners, and fine pores instead of large vents. The system has been created in direct response to the building sector being responsible for nearly 40 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
The air diffusion system offers a 90 percent reduction in embodied carbon when compared to standard systems. Made from recycled plastic waste, it can be fully recycled at the end of its life, exemplifying circular economy principles.
SR2 is designed to fit into existing air-conditioning units, replacing the traditional steel duct work that has barely changed in design over the past 50 years. The re-invention of the way air circulates through our buildings could completely change the landscape of our fight against carbon emissions.
Ninotschka Titchkosky, BVN Architecture’s co-CEO, says the spotlight in architecture is often on the environmental impact of the materials and structure of buildings.
“However, at BVN we are also mindful that the electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems inside a building contribute up to 33 percent of the total carbon cost of a typical office building,” she says.
“This means if we are to be serious about reducing the carbon impact of building design, we have to also rethink how we deliver air in buildings. This new system – SR2 – is really about this. It’s 3D-printing air”.
“98 percent of all buildings are existing, therefore if we are to address climate change we need to adapt and reinvent our existing buildings to ensure they remain relevant.”
The system makes use of the unique properties of advanced manufacturing. Robotically 3D-printed and computationally designed, the system is adaptable and customisable.
“As a society we are facing significant challenges and we can’t afford to continue building in the same way we do now,” says Tim Schork, Associate Professor from the School of Architecture at UTS.
“What is required is a fundamental rethink and radical transformation of our current practices. We need to develop new approaches to design, materials and construction.”
In order to create the components, the team programmed an industrial robot to strategically place thousands of tiny tailor-made pores in elongated tubes that slot together to create a networked system.
“Rather than dumping air at routine intervals across a floorplan, this design distributes the air evenly, meaning that there is a more consistent air temperature and flow and nobody needs to sit under the cold draught of a high-powered vent,” says Schork.
The design isn’t merely about comfort, as the curves significantly reduce energy loss and encourage air flow, due to air not moving on rigid angles.
“Air doesn’t move in right-angles, so it’s not logical to design an air distribution system with square corners,” says Schork.
Schork says the collaborative effort has opened doors for the architecture industry to work with tertiary bodies on projects of varying degrees.
“The project has not only moved the boundaries of what is possible in architecture using computation, robotics, large-scale 3D-printing and low-embodied energy materials, it has also opened an entirely new research direction by envisioning new ways of designing and making new building services,” he says.
“Only by working closely together were we able to design and fabricate this unique system.”
For both Associate Professor Schork and Titchkosky there is an urgency to shifting existing building practices, by harnessing advanced technology and developing the digital design tools and manufacturing systems necessary to create a decarbonised building culture.
“We have one of the highest levels of waste out of OECD countries, and as architects, it's really important that we're making a positive contribution and beginning to influence the industry to change,” Titchkosky says.