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03/19/24 BRIDGING THE FUTURE: R. SCOTT MITCHELL EXPLORES INNOVATIVE FABRICATION AND ROBOTICS TECHNIQUES

 

R. Scott Mitchell will present on the innovative fabrication and robotics techniques behind the Arroyo Bridge Project and Arroyo Bridge Section in an upcoming lecture.  


R. Scott Mitchell is the owner/principal of Gigante AG, a Los Angeles design-build and fabrication consulting firm, and an associate professor of practice at USC School of Architecture where he has been teaching about digital fabrication and design since 2007.


On March 29, 2024, Scott will host a special lecture spotlighting two of his most well-known works: The Arroyo Bridge project and The Arroyo Bridge Section.


While The Arroyo Bridge project was completed several years ago, Scott and his team continue to find inspiration in the work, developing new projects from the research.


Scott’s upcoming lecture will focus on how The Arroyo Bridge Project and The Arroyo Bridge Section were created and how he and his team continue to use technology in new ways to advance their designs.


“With this type of research, we are hoping to push the boundaries of what architects can do,” stated Professor Mitchell. “We have had students graduate from our program with real-world experience. Some have gone on to amazing careers outside of architecture, working in advanced fabrication and computation at companies such as Nike, Relativity Space, Vertico NL, and Autodesk Research.”


“It is more important than ever for fabricators, engineers, and architects to learn how to effectively communicate with one another. This is exactly what we did for both The Arroyo Bridge project and The Arroyo Bridge Section,” continued Professor Mitchell. “I’m excited to share my key learnings with students and others at my upcoming lecture.”



The Arroyo Bridge

The Arroyo Bridge Project began in Scott’s USC School of Architecture studio in the Spring 2014.


The studio, sponsored by David and Mary Martin, was comprised of 13 fourth-year undergraduate architecture students. These students were tasked with designing a site-specific pedestrian bridge that would span an 80-foot canyon and give access to open spaces and views.


The course challenged students to imagine a bridge that was site-specific and would respect its environment.

 

Computational tools and digital fabrication techniques informed the numerous iterations of the bridge, progressively enhancing both its structural integrity and architectural design. However, the bridge’s complex geometry, and site conditions, made it impossible and prohibitively expensive to build with traditional manual manufacturing methods. These complications prompted the design team to develop an innovative technique to pre-fabricate, and fully test assemble, the bridge components offsite.

 

The Arroyo Bridge was built using a pioneering computational design and collaborative manufacturing process with humans and robots working side-by-side.


With the help of the Autodesk Technology Center, the team developed software that instructed robot arms to hold each discrete part in perfect position for human welders. The robot arm operated as a positioning and metrology device, eliminating formwork and material waste to minimize environmental impact, while elevating design freedom.


“The Arroyo Bridge project aimed to explore new modes of robot-assisted fabrication. This human-robot interaction is a novel approach to execute unique forms that would otherwise be impossible,” says Professor Mitchell. “Collaborative robotics present an encouraging picture of a future workforce that is efficient, sustainable and socially minded.”


The Arroyo Bridge has received multiple awards, including the 2022 Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) Design-Build Award, which honors the best practices in school-based design-build projects.



The Arroyo Bridge Section

The Arroyo Bridge Section is a sculpture that was exhibited in Venice, Italy as part of the European Cultural Centre’s exhibition Personal Structures from April 23, 2023 until November 27, 2023.

 

Built in collaboration with Mary and David Martin’s MADWORKSHOP Foundation, a design education non-profit that supports students, makers, artists, and architects in the realization of socially valuable design projects, the sculpture is the newest iteration of The Arroyo Bridge project.

 

As the title indicates, it takes a section of the bridge and pushes fabrication methods from the robotic back to the hand. While Arroyo Bridge was built through a collaborative process of human hand and robotic manufacturing, Arroyo Bridge Section was built entirely by humans, working from computational models to produce a sculpture that is at once deeply engineered and profoundly hand-crafted.  

 

The Arroyo Bridge Section was unique in the sense that it was made in the U.S. for rapid installation in Italy. The time-sensitive shipping required that the sculpture be able to flat-pack for air cargo transport on a 747. This limitation led to the use of self-aligning connections. Allowing for a swift, and fixture-free, assembly on-site.

 

“Arroyo Bridge Section offers a link between craftsmanship and machine-made objects; its asymmetry and structural complexity, while rhythmically and geometrically defined, is more arboreal and organic than what would typically be imagined when one hears the phrase robotic manufacturing,” said Professor Mitchell.

 

“Arroyo Bridge Section can be read as offering a counter to the often-simplistic binary of natural versus technological, human versus computer and fabricated versus made,” continued Professor Mitchell. “Instead, this complex structure, produced by a series of processes that invited both human and robotic intervention, argues for a nuanced approach to the possibilities and productive tensions inherent in the relationship between technology and craft.”

 

A steel base anchors the sculpture onto its pedestal while the top half, made of aluminum, conceptually lifts the structure, introducing a sense of fluidity and forward momentum. 

 

“The sculpture has become, through its transformation, an abstracted piece of art disconnected from the original purpose,” said Professor Mitchell. “It has become a research project dedicated to developing extraordinarily sophisticated manufacturing methods that rely on a combination of digital and analog techniques.”

 

Elements of Arroyo Bridge Section are primarily bolted—rather than welded—together, a process that requires less than a millimeter of tolerance and which was arrived at through the incredible precision developed by Mitchell and his team at Gigante AG.  

 

“I think it is important to highlight that the entire Arroyo Bridge project started at USC and that both iterations of it were completed with the help of USC students and alumni, some of whom still collaborate with me,” said Professor Mitchell. “It is always inspiring and meaningful to work with our students and I am excited to see what the future brings in terms of our next big project.”

 

“I want to personally recognize Mary and David Martin for their generous contributions to this project and to the USC School of Architecture through their MADWORKSHOP foundation,” continued Professor Mitchell. “We are incredibly indebted to their generosity and kindness.”

 

See here for more information on Scott’s upcoming lecture.



 

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