Robotically Fabricated Ice Formwork

Enrico Pontello
Computation in Architecture

This Master Thesis focuses on the exploration of casting complex concrete architectural elements with ice formwork.

With the latest advances in complex geometry building components, we are moving from producing architectural elements from the construction site to a more controlled environment.

Due to the dynamic behaviour of the ice, these can be produced by reusing the same mould material and maintaining high standards of quality. Using robotic fabrication tools such as a robotic arm milling, the goal is to achieve 3d shapes made from one or more ice moulds, able to be stacked, assembled and merged together in order to define architectural partitions.


One of the main instigators of this research is sustainability, showcased both through the usage of ice as a mould material that is 100% reusable, and of the possibility to create complex geometries for structural optimization of the topological distribution of concrete into the cast. The potential of using ice as the formwork material is that of unity and being able to have a bespoke shape for every single element. The fabrication process is continuously iterated and improved through the iterative 3d scanning of casted objects and compared with the digital model to increasingly embrace morphological material programming.

The use of ice as a formwork material is a novel methodology that has been adopted into an architectural process to precast concrete elements. The advantages offered are the possibility to create a sustainable mould employing a 100% recyclable water while having low limitations in the complexity of the object’s geometry. Moreover, ice aesthetic unicity reflects bespoke topologies for each element.


Preparation process
Gypsum prototype trapped into ice
Final piece casted


Preparation process
Ice block erooding under salt water
Final gypsum piece casted

Robotic Drilling

An initial exploration using two evolutionary algorithm (EA) to optimize a flooring partition has been initiated. Employing “Karamba” as a parametric engineering and structural modelling for Grasshopper, has been compared “Galapagos” with “Octopus”. Both EA completed the task with different results, but the second EA produced a better result because had the option of marking preferred results and this allowed the designer to re-adjust the goal desired during the computation process.


Robotic Milling

Preparation process
Comparison between digital and physical model
Final piece casted and 3D scanned

Using topology optimization analysis, the amount of material has been reduced by 73%.

The prototype has been successfully cast and self demold using concrete fibre-reinforced.

For the initial prototypes, gypsum has been used in a mix with water to create a very compact mixture, ideal for quick casting and giving shape to small specimens. The expeditious of the process using gypsum is certainly one of the pros for this type of experimentation, however, the properties that this material brings on the ice formwork might work against the already dynamic mould. As a matter of fact, the gypsum when mixed with water heats up and it consequently speeds up the melting process. Moving the entire model back to the freezer can decelerate this action although the solidification took a maximum of 10 minutes, nevertheless, the quality of the final product appears very neat and detailed.

The concrete can also be used with an attentive choice of the temperature on both materials, e.g. the concrete at the casting moment should not exceed the temperature of 0 degrees. After the mould has been defrosted, the shuttering can be removed then afterwards let the ice melt and reuse the water for the next mould.


Cooling raw materials
Concrete setting in freezing temperature
Full strength gain

Application scenario - in situ casting

Application scenario - precasting

A vision for global use of Ice Formwork in Industry


I 2017-19 satser KADK på FN’s verdensmål
Det afspejler sig i forskning, undervisning og afgangsprojekter. Dette projekt har forholdt sig til følgende FN-mål:
Industry, innovation and infrastructure (9)
Sustainable cities and communities (11)
Responsible consumption and production (12)