Clever Design Lets A Single Person Move These Giant Concrete Blocks By Hand

Walking Assembly in action. Brandon Clifford & Johanna Lobdell in collaboration with Davide Zampini—CEMEX Global R&D

The company Matter Design has come up with an ingenious way to produce masonry building blocks that can be moved by hand by a single person. This doesn’t sound impressive until you find out these blocks weigh hundreds of kilograms.

The director of the company is MIT’s assistant professor Brandon Clifford. Inspired by the ability of ancient civilizations to produce incredible feats of engineering without modern technology, he's interested in bringing ancient knowledge into contemporary practice. In that vein, Matter Design created these blocks known collectively as “Walking Assembly”.  

“Intelligence of transportation and assembly is designed into the elements themselves, liberating humans to guide these colossal concrete elements into place. Structures that would otherwise rely on cranes or heavy equipment can now be intelligently assembled and disassembled with little energy,” the design practice said in a statement.

Matter Design worked in collaboration with CEMEX, a Mexican multinational building material company. Together, they produce blocks that cannot be lifted by a single human but can be walked by one. They can also be tilted, pivoted, and locked into place to make a stable structure thanks to their precise design. The total structure has a collective weight of 5,970kg (13,000 pounds). The small concrete units can range from 420 to 700 kilograms and the larger one weighs roughly 1,770 kg.

“By using variable density concrete, the center of mass of the object is calibrated precisely to control the stable, but easy motion of the elements. This ensures that these massive elements successfully walk and assemble into place, creating the possibility for a crane-less tilt up construction method and turning our building sites into spectacles of play,” Matter Design explained.

While seeing people move these huge blocks is already impressive enough, the implications of this approach are even more exciting. The ability to assemble and carry these blocks by hand makes them useful in locations where trucks and cranes cannot go or where they would be too expensive.

This approach is also interesting in the context of 3D-printing houses. The field is still in its infancy, but something like this could certainly end up playing a role in future architecture.  

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