Aug. 9, 2023
Visionary researcher revolutionizes construction industry with robotics and craftsmanship
A researcher at the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) is working to shake up the construction industry by combining human craftsmanship with robotics.
Dr. Alicia Nahmad Vazquez, PhD, is an associate professor at SAPL and a recent appointee as a UCalgary Research Excellence Chair. The Research Excellence program will help Nahmad Vazquez deepen her ongoing exploration into digital fabrication and robot integration.
“[We want to] make the trades more efficient whilst augmenting human skill and craftsmanship,” says Nahmad Vazquez, whose team is interested in democratizing the construction industry by bringing to construction sites technology often used in factories, enabling the trades access to technology. She says one of the goals of this research is to encourage all stakeholders to share a common language by developing physical and digital workflows between construction, architectural design and fabrication.
Many countries, including Canada, are facing a housing crisis exaggerated by a lack of new talent entering the construction industry. Prefabrication, the construction of homes in a factory setting, is an area of the industry that encourages high-tech advancements and quick turnaround times for homes, but it currently remains inaccessible to many in the construction industry. Nahmad Vazquez says a welcome byproduct of her research would be creating new avenues that can encourage young tradespeople to enter the workforce and increase the use of these techniques.
In late June, Nahmad Vazquez was announced as a Research Excellence Chair. The program — modelled after the Canada Research Chairs — recognizes distinguished scholars with promising creative work by funding compelling research up to $30,000 per year, with a yearly supplement of $5,000. Her five-year term as Chair will allow for an increased scope of research by facilitating collaborations between Canada and countries like Switzerland, China and Spain, and explore the use of technology such as game engines within architecture and construction.
Nahmad Vazquez’s work consolidates many aspects of architecture, construction, engineering and design into one unified goal, mirroring her research team. She says the team is intentionally transdisciplinary to encourage three-dimensional problem-solving to address all aspects of an issue. “Coming together allows us to find comprehensive solutions that can begin to address larger problems in the discussion of built environments, housing and other complex issues,” says Nahmad Vazquez. Her co-supervisors include members of the Schulich School of Engineering and Department of Computer Science, and the team includes research assistants from various faculties.
After researching this topic for the last decade, Nahmad Vazquez says she hopes that near-site digital fabrication will make construction more customizable to different lifestyles, introduce consumers to the fabrication process, and allow for not only retrofitting, but also repurposing old spaces with ease.
“If you think about it, the house hasn’t really changed in the last 100 years, but the way we live has changed so much,” says Nahmad Vazquez. “We want people to have more agency over their living spaces.”
To learn more about UCalgary’s Research Excellence Chair and how to apply, visit its website.