Just add water

An engineer at the University of Southern California has developed a robot that will construct buildings by squirting cement from a nozzle and then smoothing it out with a trowel, creating layers and layers of cement to form walls.

The article at New Scientist talks mostly about the innovation possible for the construction industry, but I was more intrigued by the last line, from an architect: “I believe that aesthetically there’s a great potential to make things that have never been seen before.”

This is true, and I immediately began thinking of art installations that make use of automated machinery to create an end product (most notably, the vacuum-sealed, nearly-human turds generated by Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca, which he sells for $1,500 each).

I’d like to hire this cement-spewing robot to build my art. The act of building is a performance, which I’m sure is as mesmerizing as any factory assembly-line video, and the resultant structure becomes part of an installation in a gallery or off-site.

But what about the sacred “hand of the artist”? I could build a structure out of concrete myself, I suppose, but I’d be much more interested in asking a robot to do my bidding and then seeing how closely the structure matched my vision. Computers only do what you tell them to do, and learning that particular kind of clarity that machines need is an interesting exercise. (Would it assume I wouldn’t give it anything structurally impossible to do? Does it just stop working if it gets confused?) The hand of the artist comes in here in the form of delivering orders. (Something I’ve become fond of since acquiring a couple of megaphones.)

To borrow one of Istvan Kantor’s lines: All power to the machines!