In The Future, Our Skyscrapers Will Be Built By Drones

A Swiss architecture firm is working on plans to use UAVs to assemble a skyscraper. When there are no people involved, how high can you go?

The imagined architecture of the coming drone era is mostly defensive. There’s the stealth-mode startup, Domestic Drone Countermeasures, with its camera-jamming home-security system. There’s the off-kilter fantasy, Shura City, with its symbolic minarets and militarized QR codes.


But architecture has always been a discipline of optimism and futurism, and so it’s not surprising that there are architects who want to work with, not against, the unmanned aerial vehicles.

Photo: François Lauginie.

The first movers appear to be the Swiss architects Gramazio & Kohler.

They’re about to publish a book on “Flight Assembled Architecture” with Editions HYX, a concept they presented last year by using quadcopters to assemble a 1:100-scale model of a skyscraper, brick by brick.

Of course, stacking little blocks of foam is easier than full-size, spacious rooms made of gleaming metal. And for all the talk of “a radical new way of thinking and materializing verticality in architecture,” at 600 meters, this imagined building would still be shorter than the drone-free Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

In the more immediate future, architects will be using drones for the opposite reason: to turn buildings back into images. The Iberian peninsula seems to be taking the lead on this (perhaps because in the United States, FAA licenses for private drones are still in relatively short supply).

Rendering: Gramazio & Kohler

Portuguese architects Fernandio and Sérgio Guerra have been flying custom-made drones to take architectural photographs for their clients. Researchers at the University of Granada believe they are going further, with a plan to scan historic buildings by quadcopter: “This is the first 3-D imaging system to combine the use of UAVs, image-based 3-D modeling technologies, and virtual representation of models to produce a realistic modeling of 3-D objects from images.”


In other words, architects’ most immediate use of drones is the same as everyone from the World Wildlife Fund to journalists: taking pictures.

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a print, radio and video journalist, regularly reporting for WNYC and NPR. He grew up in New Mexico.