Reinterpretng the Dougong: Developing a design-to-fabrication framework for utilising the Dougong in contemporary architecture

  • Asterios Agkathidis (Supervisor)
  • Lombardi, D. (Co-supervisor)
  • Hanmei Chen (Co-supervisor)

Activity: SupervisionPhD Supervision


The Dougong (brackets set) is a traditional Chinese capital used to transfer the load of the roof to a column. It is known for its anti-seismic properties, sustainability, and cultural significance. This research introduces a file-to-fabrication workflow for parametric design and robotic fabrication of the Dougong, thus it can be utilised in contemporary architecture. The framework incorporates topology optimisation, voxelization, multi-objective optimisation and robotic assembly and is verified by designing and assembling a three-layer intermediate Qing-style Dougong and a timber frame column out of discrete Dougong units.

The historical literature and documents that recorded the design of Dougong are utilised as sources to study Dougong’s underlying principles, such as connections, assembly rules and proportions. The underlying principles are derived for reinterpreting Dougong in contemporary design. Meanwhile, the relevant research literature analysed the existing digital design tools and robotic technologies used in Dougong and related timber design to find suitable technologies used in reinterpreting Dougong in contemporary design.
Based on these existing technologies, the research developed a file-to-workflow to utilise the Dougong in contemporary design: 1) analysis of the underlying Dougong principles, 2) digital design and optimisation, and 3) human-robot collaboration-based assembly. Two experiments, a three-layer Dougong and a timber column, were applied to explore the feasibility of using the proposed workflow. The research holds significance because it contributes to knowledge in two main points. The research translates the traditional Chinese Dougong design elements into a comprehensible contemporary construction system. The research presented a file-to-fabrication workflow to address the need for a systematic workflow to assist designers in utilising the Dougong joint in contemporary design and architecture.
The findings demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed workflow which can be effectively applied in contemporary architectural solutions incorporating digital tools and robotic fabrication. Furthermore, its use offers benefits such as increasing sustainability in construction, decreasing human labour, improving replicability/easier maintenance, and reducing construction costs. Regarding its robotic fabrication, it is important to note that the positions of components in the virtual environment may not always align with the physical positions achievable by the robotic assembly. To minimise collisions caused by these discrepancies, human-robot collaboration proved to be very effective. Additionally, the research highlights both the advantages and disadvantages of utilising the workflow in contemporary design.
PeriodMay 2024
ExamineeJiangyang Zhao
Examination held at
  • University of Liverpool UK
Degree of RecognitionInternational