Design

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The V&A unveils a season of exhibitions built by robots

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Whilst the idea of sentient machines is gradually becoming more real and terrifying by the day, for now at least, they are effectively our slaves. To celebrate this fact, whilst also perhaps sharing a little of the creative credit with them, the V&A Museum is embarking on a season that celebrates engineering, with highlights including a major Ove Arup exhibition and a sprawling outdoor installation fabricated entirely by robots. The “Engineering Season” is setting out to consider engineers as the unsung heroes of design, which wants to recognise their vital roles in developing our environment.

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Achim Menges

Launching the season this Spring is an installation designed by architect Achim Menges called the “Elytra Filament Pavilion,” which will explore the impact of emerging robotic technologies on architectural design, engineering and making. The structure of the piece has been inspired by the lightweight forewing shells of flying elytra beetles and features a canopy of tightly woven carbon fibre cells. It will grow over the course of the season in response to data on structural behaviour and patterns of how the garden is used captured by sensors in the canopy fibres, and visitors will see the pavilion expanding over time as weaving “Kuka” robots add new cells. Menges is working with Moritz Dörstelmann from the Institute of Contemporary Design, structural engineer Jan Knippers and climate engineer Thomas Auer on the project. Menges said: “We aim to offer a glimpse of the transformative power of the fourth industrial revolution currently underway, and the way it again challenges established modes of design, engineering and making.”

We aim to offer a glimpse of the transformative power of the fourth industrial revolution and the way it challenges established modes of design, engineering and making”

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Another major exhibition scheduled for the season is “Engineering the World,” which will look at the life and legacy of Ove Arup, making the argument in the process that he might have been the most significant engineer of the twentieth century. It will also tell the stories of the some of the most recognisable buildings in the world, and discuss engineering trends shaping the world we live in. It's being designed by Dyvik Kahlen Architects and the Zak Group, and takes a broad view across 100 years of architecture. Guided by Arup’s writings, key projects will be showcased, such as the Penguin Pool at London Zoo as well as renowned projects by Arup the firm, including the Sydney Opera House and Centre Pompidou in Paris. While new work such as Crossrail will be spotlighted, there is also a focus on acoustic design, crowd flow analysis and open source housing design. The story will be told through unseen prototypes, models, archival materials, drawings, film and photography as well as immersive animated displays and cutting-edge VR simulations.

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Ove Arup

Other planned events include “Mind over Matter,” in which V&A and RIBA Architecture Gallery case study projects by British engineering firms including AKT II, Buro Happold and Jane Wernick Associates will form part of a free exhibition, which will look to reflect London’s status as an engineering capital. There are also plans for an Exhibition Road Engineering Residency; a themed Friday Late; a series of lunchtime and evening lectures; talks and gallery tours, as well as a Symposium about biomimicry, design and engineering with a keynote lecture by Menges. The season runs from 18 May – 6 November.

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