Architecture Schools Begin to Put Embodied Carbon Front and Center

By Fred A. Bernstein





With support from a Flash Grant from the Princeton University Humanities Council, Black Box is developing new expertise toward the design and fabrication of felted architecture.  The work developed a number of grasshopper scripts to translate needle-felting into robotic and CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) operations.  This involved the design and fabrication of felt-specific end effectors for the ABB robots in the Architectural Lab. 

This rapid research developed new ways of working with organic materials.  The Felting Algorithm prototypes remain displayed and accessible to students in the BioFabrication shed, adjacent to the Embodied Computation Lab (ECL).  The Biofabrication shed exists in the exterior research space of the ECL.   Felting Algorithms aims to initiate a line of inquiry toward renewable and organically growing, degradable materials, in the midst of computationally-driven design.  

Princeton Black Box at the Embodied Computation Lab, Princeton University. Assistant Professor V. Mitch McEwen with two part-time graduate researchers, Laura Fegely and Kaleb Houston.  Summer 2022.

Felting paths for industrial scale ABB robot arms

Since summer 2019, the Black Box Research Group has steadily revamped a discarded 8’x 8′ x 8′ construction methods exercise into the smallest lab on Princeton’s campus, a facility dedicated to biofabrication.  The revamp included insulating with ‘hempcrete’.  According to regional hemp building material suppliers, this is the largest hemp insulated structure in New Jersey.

The facility is used for research projects and course lab work, including for undergraduate ARC311.

Spring 2022 students in ARC568 Robotic Architecture Workshop were joined by guests from Brooklyn’s GBA and NewLab to launch the first Biofabrication Bonanza — a day of demos, tutorials, and talks on biofabrication, along with hands-on workshops, robotics, and music. All at the Architecture Lab / ECL and Labatut.  Biofabrication Bonanza was funded by the Council on Science and Technology with support from PUIC and GSRC.

guests sit in glass building with bioplastic forms hanging


robotic fabrication

Starting with the Hot Grandma Chair in 2018, Black Box designed and fabricated a set of chairs with a robotic arm and low cost materials. Hot Grandma chair, fabricated with robotic controlled hotwire at the Embodied computation Lab at Princeton University, on exhibition at Storefront for Art + Architecture June 21 – August 24 2018. The chair fabrication explores uncertainty and iteration across various scales as well as non-linear processes in design and construction.

Spring 2022, advanced students in ARC568 Robotic Architecture Workshop (R.A.W.) completed 3 independent research projects with bioplastic and custom end effectors.

bio-composite thermal facade | R.A.W. project by Shashank Gupta
Bio brise soleils | R.A.W. project by Arjun Prihar

See more graduate student work with robotic fabrication in the Robotic Architecture Workshop course-blog and undergraduate student work with robotics and concrete casting in ARC311, including here.


R&D and rapid prototyping with industry

In partnership with Research and Development at Zahner, Black Box Research Group hosted a two week workshop on robotic prototyping for full-scale distributed construction.  This workshop continued graduate coursework from the Robotic Architecture Workshop, with graduate students cycling into the role of student teachers.

The fabrication prototyping for sheet metal was simulated at student’s homes, using the Cameo 4, a 12-inch width desktop cutting machine for precision cuts in vinyl, cardstock, and fabric.

Using the Cameo 4 as a desktop machine, the RAW workflow from CAD design to the generation of machine specific fabrication files/code mirrored the process Zahner engineers undergo when commissioning large scale machines and robots. Participants were exposed to the nuances of file preparation and machine tacit knowledge, exposing efforts that are fundamental to the production process but often invisible to designers . Paper projects acted as a stand-in for sheet metal components – allowing for simplified fabrication methods while still surfacing the challenges inherent in a full digital fabrication workflow for variable parts.

Below:  RAW Summer student work by Jessica Flores (prototype)


RAW Summer student work by Jessica Flores
RAW Summer student work by Jessica Flores
RAW Summer student work by Jessica Flores
RAW Summer student work by Jessica Flores

Primary support for RAW Summer 2020 was provided by the Council on Science and Technology.

Fall 2021 undergraduate students in ARC311 installed a metal and bamboo exo-structure on the Biofabrication Shed, working with Zahner Labs.

bamboo installed

bamboo on biofab shed



BIM Incubator

Black Box hosted the inaugural BIM Incubator April 11-13, 2019 featuring a range of panels, workshops, and performances.

Shown here is Robot Double Dutch, introduced by Amina Blacksher, principal and co-founder of Atelier Office.  Blacksher’s work is interested in unfolding kinetic intelligence and the embodied knowledge of the body in motion.  Her project for the BIM Incubator tasks robotics with rhythmic rigor, scripting ABB robotic arms through a familiar game touching home to many, the simple and sophisticated play of double dutch.

For more projects from the 2019 BIM Incubator, see the full website at





Concept, Direction and choreography:  Olivier Tarpaga, Lecturer in Music, Lewis Center for the Arts

Watch More Black Box videos

Black Box video channel is on Vimeo here