From Analogue to Digital: Evolution of Building Machines Towards Reforming Production and Customization of Housing

Document Type

Book Chapter

Source of Publication

Lecture Notes in Mechanical Engineering

Publication Date



The construction of edifices is all about lifting, moving and setting components according to predefined patterns. The magnitude of nineteenth century industrialization produced all manner of machines, lifts and earthmovers to facilitate construction, in addition to easing the pressures on manual labor. Along the same tactical interests, the Bessemer converter and gantry cranes were invented for advancing manufacturing and facilitating standardization of building parts. Robert Le Tourneaux’s Tournalayer, perhaps the most unique building machine, made it possible to mold buildings like a mega-cookie cutter by casting reinforced concrete in moveable steel formwork. The outcome of such experiments cultivated transformations in the building process, even if they were not widely utilized. Recent advancements in digital fabrication machines in the form of Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) cutting and milling tools, bricklaying drones, and large-scale 3D printing robots, coupled with computational design processes, are driving new possibilities in design and construction. Multiple levels of design variation are feasible, reforming standardized industrial models into user-centric, and contextually driven singular designs. The chapter aims to critically examine how contemporary digitally controlled building machines are part of a spectrum of devices linked to mechanization and how they present potentials for the democratization of housing provision. Accompanied by an analysis of how the fourth industrial revolution is impacting construction, we present a detailed overview of the evolution of building machines, with a specific focus on concrete casting machines used to produce dwellings. Then, we critically analyze the parallels between traditional casting equipment invented for mass production and today's robotic fabrication to deliver inhabitable prototypes. As a conclusion to the chapter and an opening to further research, a generative framework that stems from linking digital design with production machines is proposed for implementing customization in the industrialized housing sector, one that has long been connoted by the lack of design personalization.


978-3-031-36921-6, 978-3-031-36922-3




Springer International Publishing

First Page


Last Page





Architecture, Building machines, Customization, Large-scale 3D printing, Additive manufacturing, Construction 4.0, 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, 11. Sustainable cities and communities

Indexed in Scopus


Open Access