ETH Zurich working with robots to evoke Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Researchers from ETH Zurich are building a tall architectural structure that will evoke the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in a project that involves working collaboratively with robots.

Called Semiramis after the Assyrian queen who is sometimes associated with the ancient garden, the project has been designed with the help of artificial intelligence and is being built with the assistance of four robots.

The structure will feature five geometrically complex wooden pods, each planted with trees and other vegetation. It will reach 22.5 meters into the air and be supported by eight thin steel pillars. Semiramis is destined for the grounds of Tech Cluster Zug, an innovation center under construction in Zug, Switzerland. The structure will be erected and planted out in spring 2022.

A research group from ETH Zurich, led by architecture professors Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, designed Semiramis, with assistance from Müller Illien Landscape Architects and timber construction company Timbatec. The design involved software and algorithms created by the Swiss university's researchers and applied for the first time on this project.

A machine learning algorithm, developed in collaboration with the Swiss Data Science Center, presented the researchers with a range of design options that fit their inputted requirements. The options included different pod shapes and spatial arrangements and would highlight how the differences affected individual target variables, such as pod irrigation.

The software would adjust the structure's entire geometry around any change, always generating the most efficient and load-bearing configuration. "The computer model lets us reverse the conventional design process and explore the full design scope for a project," said Kohler. "This leads to new, often surprising geometries."

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