Robotic Construction - The Glass Vault

Structural Designer

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Client Name

Collaboration between SOM & Princeton University - Not Client


Westminster University, London, UK

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill


Princeton University CREATE Lab

Form Finding Lab 

TU Delft Glass

Transparency Research Group 

Global Robots

Poesia Glass Studio
  Images: © SOM Maciej Grzeskowiak


Working at the forefront of technological advances, SOM has been developing new ways to exploit the potential of digital fabrication – the Glass Vault installation is our latest demonstration project in automated robotic construction. Displayed at the heart of SOM’s exhibition “Anatomy of Structure: The Future of Art and Architecture” in London, the Glass Vault was assembled live onsite by robots through the course of the exhibition.

The interactive installation required an intricate collaboration between SOM and Princeton University CREATE Lab and Form Finding Lab, with assistance from the TU Delft Glass & Transparency Research Group. The robotic arms were provided by Global Robots and the glass bricks were provided by Poesia Glass Studio. Through the combined collective expertise, the team developed a material system, design and assembly strategy that would enable robotic arms to assemble a self-supporting structural vault. The research behind this installation aims to utilise vault construction methods by applying advanced engineering techniques to create an efficient and beautiful shell structure that can be built entirely without formwork or guides.   

Submitted in 2021

Judge's comment:

Through a combined collective expertise, the team have enabled robotic arms to assemble a self-supporting structural vault live in front of an audience. Requiring a challenging material system, design and assembly strategy.

The vault shape was conceived to showcase the robots’ capabilities, in particular spatial awareness, and potential for collaboration with humans. By using two robots that worked together the need for any support structure was fully eliminated. 

Glass bricks were selected as the primary material for the vault to showcase the structural and aesthetic potential of this easily recyclable material with high compressive strength. 

The project is a novel take on an ancient structural form and an inspiring demonstration of new possibilities.

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