Volker Helm

  • In Situ Robotic Fabrication. The algorithmic description of robot-based construction processes on site

The doctoral project is based on a collaboration between the research areas of experimental computer science and architectural digital fabrication.


Prof. Dr. Georg Trogemann (first supervisor)
Lab3, Laboratory for Experimental Computer Science
KHM, Academy of Media Arts Cologne

Chair Gramazio & Kohler
Architecture and Digital Fabrication
ETH Zurich


The technical requirements for future building processes are growing increasingly complex and necessitate custom solutions. Computer-controlled methods enable the production of individually designed components without increasing costs and time. Unlike stationary devices, mobile units can be used directly at building sites and unite the performance of digitally described elements and in situ construction.

Comprehensive robot-assisted construction processes require simple and intuitive operation. The focus of this research project therefore lies in the algorithmic description of automated construction processes and the communication between man and machine, because complex scan and object recognition processes in an undefined workspace can be simplified by human instructions.

The research goals of this thesis are therefore the robot-based manufacture of architectural components on a scale of 1:1 and the direct application of industrial robots at the construction site. Mobile robot systems are designed to perceive their environment (construction site) and respond and adapt to changing conditions. The synergy between the research fields of architecture and experimental computer science is of central importance for this new issue.

Personal background

After studying architecture at the University of Siegen (D), Volker Helm specialized in Computer Aided Architectural Design (CAAD) as part of a Master of Advanced Studies with chair Ludger Hovestadt (ETH Zurich). This and automated production were his main areas of study. As part of his thesis he designed an Internet-controlled formwork machine able to replicate configured free forms.

During his subsequent six-year employment at the Basel architecture office Herzog & de Meuron he focused on the development, programming, and implementation of complex geometries and worked on many internationally renowned projects, such as the National Stadium in Beijing. He conducted in-house seminars and evaluated computer-controlled production machines.

Since 2010, Volker Helm has been a research assistant to the professors Gramazio and Kohler, the chairs of Architecture and Digital Fabrication at ETH Zurich. His research deals with the algorithmic description of architectural components and their robot-based production. He gives lectures and conducts workshops at various universities and technical colleges.