07 MARCH 2016

Design and architecture revolutionary Dr Roland Snooks visits The Faculty’s Melbourne Roundtable. 

Have you ever seen a murmuration of starlings? This stunning display of swarm intelligence can also be found amongst schools of fish and in the insect world. It involves individual starlings interacting with the birds next to them, yet having no knowledge of the amazingly complex overall theme. Each individual operates by three rules – cohesion (staying close to the birds immediately around them), separation (avoiding hitting their neighbors) and alignment (travelling in the same direction). 

For Dr Roland Snooks, founding partner of Kokkugia, director of Studio Roland Snooks, and Senior Lecturer in Architectural Design at RMIT University, watching this incredible display was his moment of inspiration. Swarm intelligence became the basis of the revolutionary work he has undertaken in design and architecture using what he calls “complex systems”. In essence, he takes the intention of the designer and writes it down in algorithmic code, determining the behaviours for objects/lines and how they can interact to create a form. The object or building is then created using industrial robots or 3D printers. The role of the designer, therefore, is to determine the behaviour of the robots building the object, but not literally designing the object itself. The results? A stunning portfolio of mind-bending objects and buildings that left the Melbourne Roundtable members amazed and inspired. 

Robotics and 3D printers have changed the status-quo

Snooks made the leap from nature-inspired complex systems to architectural robotics when he realised that traditional construction methods would not be able to create the objects he wanted to build. Intelligently-programmed 3D printers, however, are capable of constructing almost anything that radical designers such as Snooks can come up with. For thousands of years, buildings have looked the way they look because of the way they are put together, but 3D printing frees architects from these constraints. This means that we’re about to experience some fundamental shifts in design: 

  • The unattractive ‘concrete box’, long regarded as the cheapest and easiest design, is not the most efficient way for 3D printers to build. We are going to see more complex designs that are actually cheaper than the box-type structures currently lining our highways.
  • Ornate, detailed design such as that seen in the Baroque churches and palaces of Europe will make a comeback through 3D printing – there is no longer a correlation between cost and detail.  

Thinking outside the concrete box

For the CPOs in the room, Snooks sparked a fascinating discussion that will continue all the way through to this year’s Asia-Pacific CPO Forum, which is themed around harnessing innovation. Some key takeaways for the session for procurement professionals include:

  • Do not underestimate the enormous changes 3D printing will have on your supply chain. If you are unfamiliar with 3D printing, now is the time to explore this fascinating technology.
  • CPOs in the construction industry are going to experience an accelerated rate of change driven by disruptive innovators such as Snooks. Design, materials, labour and costs are all going to evolve rapidly as 3D printers are scaled up to take over major construction projects.
  • Computational engineering has kept pace with computational and robotic design – if an architect such as Snooks can envisage a building, cutting-edge engineers can analyze the plan and make it structurally achievable.
  • Innovation can be as simple as putting two seemingly unrelated concepts (such as swarm intelligence and 3D printing) together to create an entirely new idea. Revisit the constraints that are currently hampering your operation and consider how available technology could be used to create an innovative solution. 

The Faculty Roundtable comprises of an influential group of procurement leaders who gather to share their experiences and insights, to achieve greater commercial success for their organisations. Through The Roundtable, members have access to leading-edge thought leadership and commentators, a ready supply of valuable expertise through exclusive market intelligence, as well as networking and professional development opportunities for themselves and their team members.

The Asia-Pacific CPO Forum is the region’s premier procurement event dedicated to accelerating commercial leadership at the highest level. It is a once-a-year opportunity for leading Chief Procurement Officers to engage with peers and like-minded business leaders in an intimate and interactive setting. The Forum is designed for delegates to facilitate the sharing of best practice strategies, develop innovative and responsive procurement approaches, and hear from a compelling speaker line-up of influential thinkers, eminent business leaders and commercially creative minds.

In 2016, The 9th Annual Asia-Pacific CPO Forum will held on 18th and 19th May in Melbourne, Australia. For more information contact Program Manager, Belinda Toohey, on +61 3 9654 4900 or via email.​

[Image credit:]