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Collaborative Design of Prefabricated Facade Systems

Where research and industry meet to bring individual expression and cost-efficiency to our built environment.


CoDeFa is a joined research project between Institute Integrative Design|Masterstudio, FHNW and ERNE AG Holzbau, co-financed by Innosuisse.

The primary goal of this research is to improve our built environment on a larger scale by providing efficiency of manufacturing facade elements, without sacrificing design freedom. We believe that the convergence of the design and manufacturing as well as constant feedback between the disciplines can help to unlock the true potentials of technological innovation. Through collaborative work between woodwork engineers, experienced designers, robotics specialists and software developers we establish a novel approach to designing and producing prefabricated façade systems that are individualized, well-crafted yet cost-efficient.

How do we work: Digital Craftmsanship

To enhance creativity and design freedom  among architects, we stream our research investigations into three main directions: custom parametric modelling instruments, flexible robotic fabrication and most importantly a collaborative design process between various stakeholders.  The digital design and fabrication tools are developed in parallel and are informed with technical limitations and material properties of wood. As such, this solution brings a new value to the industrial setup, a digital craftsmanship, where the creative needs and technical feasibility meet a stable ground forming continuous design-to-fabrication process. 

Digital tools

In order to provide more transparency, shorten the design–to–production process and provide creative freedom for architects, we develop a set of custom parametric tools of varied functions. These are playful instruments that boost architects’ creativity, help them to materialize their ideas, as well as rationalization tools for engineers to facilitate the facade planning phase and ensure continuous digital workflow.


Robotic fabrication

We analyse and improve existing industrial production processes of ERNE AG Holzbau as well as establish new automated production methods to support architects during the creation of their individual ideas. Through collaborative work between researchers and ERNE’s engineers we established innovative 2-robot fabrication processes for complex façade assembly as well as set of individual supporting production processes.


Collaborative design

Understanding architects’ expectations towards facade systems are crucial in our investigations. We ground our research on the concept of collaborative customization, in which the needs of the customers inform the manufacturing process. We explore different modes of exchange between architects and construction company and adjust accordingly the offer of the industrial partner.


Stories: Learning from the past

Wooden facades have a long history in Switzerland. Their form and aesthetics steam from centuries of trials and errors, which led to optimized systems regarding available resources, production feasibility and performance in the local climate. In our research we are learning from the old masters. Together with carpenters, wood engineers, robotic specialists and architects we are looking for the new interpretations of historic wood façades – shingles, board-on-board and beam-based facades. With the help of new design and production technologies we creatively expand its aesthetic expression, while keeping original logic and performance.

Collaborative Design Process: Working with architects

One of the main goals of the research project is providing architects the possibility to customize the prefabricated facade systems with the help of generative design and automated production methods. Our approach is based on the concept of collaborative customization, in which the needs of the customer define the manufacturing process. That is why, understanding architects’ expectations towards facade systems in terms of aesthetics, methods of fabrication and collaboration with the manufacturer become crucial in our investigations. 

As collaboration in the design process between various fields is seen as a mainstay of efficiency improvements, we start each new project with a collaborative workshop with architects, where architects’ expectations are enhanced with custom parametric design tools and confronted with the production posibilities and structural knowledge of wood engineers. 

Online questionnaire

If you’re an architect, you’re very welcome to support our research with your knowledge! Please fill out the online questionnaire. We want to know your experience and expectations towards working with the prefabricated facade systems, dedicated design tools, importance of fabrication methods and collaboration with the construction company. 


Demonstrator: Facades of the office Saig, 2020

The demonstrator of the project, four outstanding facades on the modular office building in Stein, Switzerland will be accomplished in October 2020. They are designed and robotically fabricated by the research team. 

Case study: Noise cancelling wall in Olten, 2018

Noise cancelling wall was designed by Edyta Augustynowicz in 2018, and constructed by ERNE AG Holzbau in 2019. Designed parametrically in a highly collaborative process, it was used as a case study to formulate the scope of the research project.

Teaching: Craftsmanship in the digital era

The course ‘Craftsmanship in the digital era’ was an elective course at the FHNW within the Lehrfond grant, conducted within February – September 2020 by Maria Smigielska, Edyta Augustynowicz, Daniel Nikles and Heinz Wagner. It was inspired by the founding of the research project. During the course we analyzed the traditional Swiss craftsmanship manifested in wooden artifacts of architecture and applied arts under 3 criteria: available technology, material logic and local tradition. In the next step the students were looking for the new relevant scenarios for the contextualized craftsmanship in the era of the digitization.


The project was initiated by Edyta Augustynowicz in 2018 as a joined research between University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, FHNW and ERNE AG Holzbau. Our team is highly interdisciplinary and consists of researchers, experienced computational designers, woodwork engineers, robotics specialists and software developers. 

Edyta Augustynowicz

Project Lead
edyta.augustynowicz (at)
edyta.augustynowicz (at)

Maria Smigielska

maria.smigielska (at)

Daniel Nikles

MA of Arts FHNW in Design
daniel.nikles (at)

Thomas Wehrle

Project Manager
thomas.wehrle (at)

Prof. Heinz Wagner

Head of the Institute Integrative Design|Masterstudio, FHNW
heinz.wagner (at)

Ralf Michel

Dr, MA Design, FHNW
Strategy Advisor
ralf.michel  (at)

Project partners


HGK | FHNW – Basel

Institute Integrative Design | Master Studio Design

Freilager Platz 1, 4002 Basel, Switzerland