HOW: Production Concept

Version 1.1

What follows introduces the method of intervention that provides the material premise for the rest of the concept described by this site.  Here we deal with the how -- the what and the why of the intervention will be dealt with separately on the pages devoted to those aspects of the work.   In brief, the material concept proposes a 21st century resurrection of a form of architecture that has been dormant for centuries: rock cut architecture – through a production method updated to capitalize on (historically) recent technological advances.

For a general introduction to rock-cut architecture, please see:

The first point to be made in this discussion follows from a comparison of two of the best known examples.  First: Petra, Jordan.

The absolutely critical issue highlighted by these two examples, Petra and Kailash, is the inescapable consequence of the initial site selection on the final outcome.  The Indian example is undeniably impressive in its form and execution, but the rock itself is lifeless compared to the color, pattern and variability of the rock that Petra was subtracted from.  With this form of architecture it is the rock itself, above all else, that dominates the aesthetic result.  It is the difference between end products of a lapidary beginning with onyx or beginning pumice stone -- but expanded to the scale of a temple.

A survey of quarries highlights the range of material possibilities opened by a more strategic site selection -- the contrast, colors, and textures waiting to be revealed by subtraction.  In the examples that follow, one can only imagine the result if Kailash had been subtracted from one of these sites:
Photography by Edward Burtynsky
The possibilities opened solely through the selection of site, and the response to the conditions found there, is demonstrated even more clearly by the Unirea Salt Mine in Slanic, Romania.  By chance, the subtraction of one of the chambers of this breathtaking space is symmetrically centered on the massive vein of stratified layers that the chamber slices through, as shown in the bottom picture. This only hints at the opportunities that, with enough upfront information, can be included in the design intention.

Over just the past 50 years, gains made in the geological sciences have effectively redefined our understanding of the ground beneath us, from methods of gathering below-grade data to digital modeling, simulation, and analysis.  Nearly all of this increased knowledge is a byproduct of "industries that dig" -- mining, below grade infrastructure, fossil fuel extraction, etc.  However, with sufficient re-purposing, the increases in understanding offered by geological science have reached a point that they open historically unprecedented possibilities for rock-cut architecture.  The case for revisiting rock cut architecure now
  • We now know, better than any previous period of history, where the beautiful stone is, and how to identify it within the geological landscape.  Due to this, we can identify a site that will take the aesthetic distance between the stone used for Kailash and Petra, and go that distance again beyond Petra.
  • Historically unprecedented knowledge of the chemical and structural properties of the various types of stone that we find in situ.
  • Historically unprecedented methodologies for determining and evaluating the physical structural properties (e.g. three dimensionally mapping the fractures within) of a specific in situ rock mass through non-destructive means.  More on the "IF/WHEN" page.
  • Historically unprecedented ability to model the structural properties and limits of forms subtracted from such an in situ rock mass composed of one of these various types of stone.  More on the "IF/WHEN" page.
  • Existing technologies that can be brought together to all but eliminate the high cost of human labor required by this form of architecture.  More on this below in "The Method of Production."
  • And finally, as described in "Project Background," the work presented here addresses a question about architecture and sustainability.  The questions now demanding attention regarding sustainability involve very long time frames, which runs counter to not only contemporary architectural production, but counter to the very structure of advanced consumer capitalism.  As a result, we have a pressing need for architectural spaces that help orient us toward the very long term, that reflect the kinds of priorities most likely to still be essential for the distant future; that speak from the present into an open-ended then – of which rock cut architecture is the clearest embodiment.  Every existing example of rock cut architecture is some version of a cultural expression of this sentiment.  Architectural thought in this direction opens exactly the questions that need thinking.  This point will be addressed further in the “WHY” section. 
All of this new understanding and technological capacity converges on the current period of architectural history in which an architectural thought premised on rock-cut architecture could not be further from a live possibility -- which is in fact one of its most essential advantages for the purposes of this project.  Again, more on that on the "WHY" page.

The Method of Production

The method of producing all previous examples of rock cut architecture has been a massive brute-force expenditure of human labor.  For the first time, we have the possibility of an alternative through the combination of what are all currently existing technologies:

Take the freedom of three dimensional movement from CNC robotic arms like these:

Add the material handling capability shown here:

Add some version of the mobility of these (or better):

The result is a mobile CNC robot capable of carving a three dimensional digital model from an in situ rock mass.  With enough of these robots all carving the same rock mass, an intervention on the scale of a large building becomes feasible, given enough time.  Everything needed is existing technology; it would only require a few years of R&D to re-purpose it to this project.  The production concept in summary: 

  A small army of these mobile CNC robots
A high-accuracy local positioning system 
(e.g. laser positioning system,
A site that has been determined to have a very large, 
sufficiently monolithic rock mass of unique beauty
Extensive research and on-site testing to develop an unprecedentedly
hyper-accurate model of the mechanical properties of the rock mass being subtracted from
And finally, a digital model of what is to be carved out.