121: ‘The Value of Curiosity’, with Mollie Claypool

A conversation with Mollie Claypool.

121: ‘The Value of Curiosity’, with Mollie Claypool

Mollie Claypool of Automated Architecture (AUAR) joins the podcast to talk about how technology could be used to bridge the gap between the way architecture is designed and the way it is built in order to make it more accessible to the 99%. Other topics include robotics and automation in architecture, the disconnect between design and construction, bridging the gap between design and reality, the importance of social values and impact in architecture, the need for hands-on learning and visual thinking in education, and more.

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121: ‘The Value of Curiosity’, with Mollie Claypool
Mollie Claypool of Automated Architecture (AUAR) joins the podcast to talk about how technology could be used to bridge the gap between the way architecture…

Episode Transcript

121: ‘The Value of Curiosity’, with Mollie Claypool


Evan Troxel: [00:00:00] Welcome to the TRXL podcast. I'm Evan Troxel. This is the podcast where I have a conversation with guests from the architectural community and beyond to talk about the co-evolution of architecture and technology. In this episode, I welcome Mollie Claypool. Mollie is co-founder and CEO of Automated Architecture, which from here on out will be referred to as AUAR, which is A-U-A-R. An activist entrepreneur at heart. Mollie believes in radically changing the way we build so we can change the way we live. 

Her ethos is that radical change in housing production using automation. I must come from a fundamental rethink of both what and how we build Mollie has initiated projects and led teams of up to 50 people towards cultural and organizational change in the built environment. Her background includes an associate professorship in architecture at the Bartlett school of architecture, UCL[00:01:00] At the Bartlett, she is co-director of AUAR Labs and has been history and theory coordinator in MArch architectural design. As managing editor of Prospectives, an open access peer reviewed journal supported by the Bartlett. She has advocated for emerging thinkers and diverse voices in architecture as an author. She co-wrote robotic building architecture in the age of automation and authored the SPACE10 report: the digital and architecture then now, and in the future. She's been a visiting professor at the cluster for excellence, integrative, computational design, and construction for architecture. At the university of Stuttgart. And was faculty at the AA school of architecture. Molly has a passion for politics, allotmenting, which is also known as gardening. I did have to look that word up. And environmental activism. She's a mom of two and lives in Bristol, UK with her partner. In this episode, we [00:02:00] discuss how technology could be used to bridge the gap between the way architecture is designed and the way it is built in order to make it more accessible to the 99% other topics include robotics and automation and architecture. The disconnect between design and construction, bridging the gap between design and reality, the importance of social values and impact in architecture. The need for hands-on learning and visual thinking and education and more so without further ado, I bring you my conversation with Mollie Claypool. 

Molly, welcome to the podcast. 

Mollie Claypool: Thanks for having me. 

Evan Troxel: Yeah, I'm excited to have a conversation. This is becoming a theme, uh, robotics, I mean obviously tech and architecture, all that stuff. But, I would love it if you could give a background, how did you get to where you are now and why do you do what you do? Like, let just paint a [00:03:00] picture of what that trajectory has been looking backward, uh, and, and for the audience,

Mollie Claypool: Sure. So I started, um, 

my professional career in 2008, which was obviously, 

um, the moment of the last, 

well, let's say second to last, 

uh, financial crash.

Evan Troxel: right. 

Mollie Claypool: and I graduated at a time where there wasn't really any You know, everyone was getting fired or made redundant because, um, there wasn't any work. And I had just started a master's degree as a, as kind of a pre preempting 

that. I finished my master's degree in from the AA School of Architecture, which at the time was a very exciting place to be where the design research lab and others were doing really interesting work at the intersection of design, computation, automation, robotics, what I felt was missing [00:04:00] from the conversations that were happening in the design research lab what I felt like was missing in previous generations of digital architects was a conversation around social values and social impact. Um, not to say those gener that earlier generation or that institution wasn't trying to have those conversations, I just felt like it wasn't really embedded into the way that we were using the tools and how those tools were us to think radically differently about they could change people's lives.

Evan Troxel: Can, can we pause? Yeah, that's what I want. That's what I wanted to get to. Okay. I just wanted to pause the, the, 

story there and say what do you mean by that So, 

yeah, give your example and because I, when, when you say social impact, 

I think like citizen architect kind of things, but, but you might, so, so anyway, you might, think something different. so, I wanted to, to hear what that meant.

Mollie Claypool: Absolutely. so 

a [00:05:00] great example is that the digital architects of the 1990s, two thousands, were mainly designing large cultural buildings.

you know, you have Guggenheim Bilbao, 

you have Yokohama Terminal, you have really large cultural projects are beautiful projects, don't get me wrong, innovative in and of of themselves, but impact the lives of everyday people to the degree that previous projects in architecture that were really focused on questions of housing and, you know, everyday of access to design, were, and. I saw that as a disconnect between, uh, me and other people. There was a lot of us doing this at the time as a disconnect between the design tools that we were using and the way that the vast majority of buildings and homes get built,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: is very manual, very labor cumbersome work.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: So even though we had the [00:06:00] cap capability to design, um, really interesting new forms of what architecture could be, there was that gap between the way that we design and the way that we build.

Um, and I saw that gap as actually really causing architecture couldn't really reach the 99%, um, rather than the 1% or of the causes. So we started thinking, okay, well if there is this massive disconnect between the way that we design and the way that we build, know, Shouldn't the fact that technology is becoming more and more accessible, make it more and more possible to begin to close that gap?

And the way that we began to question that was not through the lens of using new tools just to design new forms and new shapes, also thinking about what is the, what makes up the base, the very basic parts of what architecture is. Because for example, in construction, you have buildings that are made of thousands of parts, very difficult to simulate that, very difficult [00:07:00] to simulate the process of putting that together.

You know, it takes a lot of, in traditional ways of designing and constructing, it takes a lot of manpower to be able to produce the documentation needed. And I, and we thought, okay, well there must be a problem in exactly what we're building with not just how we're building. just how we're designing.

And that kind of led us to really designing, you know, an architectural system for building that was truly designed for automation, truly designed for robotics, and designed for robotics assembly in particular.

Evan Troxel: Interesting. I, I think about the, the words that you're using about manual labor and construction and, and assemblies of parts and thousands and thousands of parts, and this kind of social fabric that exists between the 1% and the 99%, like that missing, that huge missing gap. And it is really interesting, right, to think about how and you even made the distinction.

Like designing [00:08:00] technology to design, I'll just use the word like crazier forms or, you know, more innovative forms. Um, and, and how much time is spent kind of thinking about and modeling all those intricate pieces that ultimately get put in place by hand. Right. And there's a, just this giant spectrum in all of that.

And the disconnected pieces of that spectrum really don't make it feel like a spectrum at all. Like it's, you've got people sitting at desks, toiling all night long behind computer screens, modeling little tiny pieces that ultimately, like, they really don't know how they go together a lot of the time.

And you've got the other end of that spectrum, which is people trying to read that off of a drawing, right? Or a shop drawing of how to actually, what, what is the design intent here? And then a level of interpretation that's going on there. and all of the stuff in the middle like that is a really messy [00:09:00] middle.

And I think that's one of the big reasons why technology hasn't saved architecture, right? Like it's, there is this, there is so much in the middle bridging the gap between what is in the mind of the architect, the designer, the design team, all of the consultants, everybody there, and the coordination that's happening.

And like, that's a soup in itself. And the wisdom of the people who are on the job sites that the years and years and years of doing the things and how disconnected those two camps alone are

Mollie Claypool: Yeah,

Evan Troxel: incredible. I mean, it's, it's kind of no wonder that there's no such thing as capital a architecture for the 99%.

Like it's, it's so hard and it costs so much money, right, to build the kinds of projects that you spoke about, like Guggenheim, Bilbao and things like that, where it's just like, . Well, yeah. I mean, and years and years and years of time. And while the world marches on [00:10:00] in a very consumerist mentality of I buy things, I don't buy a process, I don't buy a design process that takes years and years and all of my money.

Wow. Talk about layers and layers of disconnection there, and, and, and you're thinking about this from a standpoint of like, how can we actually begin to bridge that gap? Because there's, there's design capital, a architecture design for that 1%, and then there's so much left on the table, right? That c that could be a much more automated design and assembly, fabrication building process to build better for that 99%.

Uh, there's, there's a lot of opportunity there.

Mollie Claypool: and I mean, it's the most urgent space that we have to deal with because for example, we work quite explicitly in the housing sector. And housing is a VA such a need that the way that we build [00:11:00] is the way we build now or have built historically is never going to satisfy that need and desire.

And housing has been so commodified and financialized that the processes by which we build housing that are so incredibly inefficient actually support that commodification and financialization. we have to actually radically change that entire process to to think differently about delivering homes more efficiently and then better.

I really think that that missing middle for us is the place that we like to sit. It's the place that I like to think about and I like to work in because. everyone can identify with it. First of all, whether you're a real estate developer or just, you know, my neighbor down the road, everyone has a horror story. almost no one that exists, , that doesn't have one story, at least about, of something that has been wrong [00:12:00] for them in their living environment. And if we can that kind of with that issue to become as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, I think we can do an immense amount of good for the world and we can help people. Have the, one of the very basic rights secure to them. So for me, it's about navigating big, big, big, big issue through what is a big, big, big problem. And a big, big, big challenge, but through a very precise lens. And the lens is that we are designing really poorly for the technologies that we have available to us right now.

Evan Troxel: and identifying that as a, as a, the thing that you're going after. So where, where has that led you specifically? I.

Mollie Claypool: I met my co-founder in 20. 11, I think 2010, [00:13:00] um, in the d r l at the Architectural Association is my second year teaching. And we stayed in conversation after that. We were both really young. I was 24, at the time, I think maybe 25. And we, um, we're part of a, you know, a rising generation of people who were thinking about these issues.

And I started working, um, say mainly in the theory space, in architecture, in computational architecture, in particular, teaching and writing, And that gave me a great exposure to a lot of people doing really interesting things in terms of design, not a lot of people doing very interesting things in terms of proving this at scale.

And that became something that I found really problematic that. this problem. There was great ideas in terms of, you know, what, it was potentially [00:14:00] possible, but actually doing it for real, it, it ended up amounting to someone building like an installation or a pavilion or a video or something like that.

And it for me. Um, I'm a visual and person. I learn very well through using my hands also.

Evan Troxel: mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: can't touch something and really experience it in the way that it's meant to be experienced, I really struggle with, identifying with it. I think that that meant that I was constantly just how innovative this new technique of modeling or 3D printing something or was cuz I was like, okay, well how does this scale?

Like how does this actually become what you're truly saying it should be? Where does it intersect with the industry that already exists that looks at this and says that this is wild. , like how do we make that gap and make that leap? So we start, I started a research lab with a few others. In 2017, I shifted from the Architectural [00:15:00] Association to the Bartlett School of Architecture first as the undergraduate program director there.

Um, and then started this research lab. Now the, was brought into, um, the Bartlett specifically because of my background in computational theory and technology. it was going through shift at the time towards integrating more computational tools into the undergraduate program. And I was an outsider and they thought that it was a good idea to bring in someone from the outside who, you know, was adept at being able to navigate the politics of an institution like that. Um, so I spent a few years really. to understand, you know, from a practitioner's perspective, which is the main group of people that teach design right? In a school of architecture, um, you know, where they really saw these digital tools being useful for their students. And I found again, that there was a big gap in terms of representation versus realization. [00:16:00] So my research lab was, um, evolving at the same time, and we launched in 2017, early 2017. Um, I had just had my first kid like a few weeks before. Um, and that really took off, um, the year later when we started saying, well if nobody else is gonna really do this kind of project and getting out into. Industry and the communities that need homes and could benefit from the way that we're an approach towards automation. Let's just do it ourselves. Like let's do it for real. So we found , we found, um, some of our collaborators I met, I was part of the Southwest Creative Technology Network, um, fellowship program out in the southwest of England, um, for a year.

And I met one of our first collaborators, um, out at this, um, uh, digital arts and media association called No West Media [00:17:00] Center. director there, Melissa mean, and I hit it off. And she does a lot of community driven work using digital tools and technologies. And we started developing co co-developing work together around how do you enable people, everyday people to actually begin to connect to robotics,

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Mollie Claypool: software development tools to plat the idea of what a platform could be um, all the new tools and technologies that they wouldn't have been ever been able to get close to, was a really exciting time because we finally had a group of people that we could work with and we've worked with since. Um, in figuring out what is the best way to that these tools could have a life transforming, impact if they were made more accessible?

Evan Troxel: Wow. I want to go back to something you said early on in that go right there, which was you learned through working with your hands and you're a very visual [00:18:00] learner. Architecture school is obviously kind of all about that, right? Like at least it w it was back in, back in the day when we, and I'm sure it still is to some extent, of building physical models and.

It's really interesting though to think about kind of the timeline and how things have shifted so much and the tool set of designers away from the physical and just into the digital space. Right. And we talked earlier about the kind of disconnection between the design and the reality of, of building at scale and it's just timely.

I was just watching a Ted Talk by Temple Grandin and she has a, a book about visual thinking that's been out for a while, I think. And just talking about the need for, um, a lot of brains out there. A lot of people with the kind of brains who, who operate like that. I'm definitely one of those people. I'm like a visual object thinker.

Um, I can think spatially and obviously there's [00:19:00] a lot of training that goes into, into that on from, from an architectural education perspective, but there's also people who are just wired like that. And I think a lot of people end up in architecture. and other similar fields because they think like that.

Uh, I had architectural drafting classes, like those don't exist anymore. I, there was a wood shop, there was a metal shop, there was photography studios in high school. A lot of those things don't exist anymore. Not all. They're not all gone and they're not all gone everywhere. But they are gone in many, many places. And do you think that that is contributing, I mean, it just seems kind of like a rhetorical question at this point, but do you think that that is contributing to this disconnection? I just think about my kids. Like I've got, my oldest is 21, my youngest is 17. And in be even there, like there's not, besides what I have taught them, they haven't [00:20:00] had a lot of opportunities to explore making things with their hands and whether they're wired like that or not.

Like you kind of have to figure out if you're wired like that by actually doing it. Right? Because there's some kids who are just totally excelling in algebra and Temple Grandin makes this point, like she should have skipped algebra and went straight to geometry because it's visual, it's shapes, and there's kind of this rigor in education in the curriculum.

It's pushing more and more towards stem. Right? But STEM is still very abstract and it's still very, it's not hands on. It is still very, you know, it's a lot of brain work and it's not visual brain work. It's like text-based kind of stuff. And so she kind of makes a distinction between text-based learners and object-based learners.

Mollie Claypool: Hmm.

Evan Troxel: Do you think that that's driving a lot more of this disconnection? Because I see like what the focus is in architecture school to create amazing forms, [00:21:00] creating great visual coding, scripting, doing all of these things. And, and to create amazing design, but it will never get built. And a lot of times it is not buildable at all.

And so, kind of bridging, going back to bridging that gap, you're in academia, how are you guys addressing that, like bridging that gap there as well? I, I, I, we're leading, we're leading somewhere here with this conversation, but it just seems like all of these things are kind of swirling around in my brain as you're telling me this.

And it, and obviously I'm going off on some tangents here as well, but, uh, digressions are encouraged, I think. Um, what, what do you think about all that, that side of things when it comes to

Mollie Claypool: there's, so I think there's a couple of different things I can pick up on. One is that, I mean, architecture since the beginning of it being called architecture was disconnected from the practice of building.

Evan Troxel: Hmm

Mollie Claypool: Right. So I mean, we already have that within our discipline. Now, [00:22:00] obviously there's been many attempts over the years to bring these two sides together.

There's certain people who see certain names and that we are familiar with Jean Perve, for example, who tried to bring together design and manufacturing and design to production and many more since then. But I think it, it's a very basic tenant. This disconnect the architect has construction is, is at the core of it.

And then again, you have the whole, um, you know, sociopolitical framework of business in architecture, right? and legal framework, which encourages that. And then on the other side, I think, you know, there's two ways you can look at it. One is that we don't necessarily have role models for in bringing together digital tools at scale within academia.

because it's very difficult for someone who is a practitioner to also teach. If you're doing something at, at that kind of scale that I'm talking about,[00:23:00] 

or it's within the private company, it's kind of held within a private company and can't necessarily come through. or, you know, in education you have an underfunding of, arts, music things you would touch and feel right.

You know, when I went to high school, we had a photography studio. I would develop my own film. had an insane art room, where I would spend most of my breaks just making stuff. You know, that in my kid's primary school here, I even see already that that messy space isn't really, truly available to him in the way that it was

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: And I think, you know, at least in the UK we have a government that has underfunded arts and humanities that would give you access to that wide variety of different forms of education, um, over the last 15 years. So, you know, we're in a, we're in a prime for [00:24:00] that disconnect to be even in the younger generations.

it comes down to us as educators, but also comes down to us as practitioners and trying to change things to try to be the change that we want to see for the younger generation to serve as role models, um, for them as well. So, for example, I, I like to spend some of my time mentoring young women

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: o see that either they're going to be in academia in particular, either going to be pushed into a more administrative role. or aren't seen as design tutors for whatever reason aren't seen as, they aren't seen as kind of as individuals. know, their own project and instead do very much, you know, as a result, either do highly collaborative work or as a result kind of fall into the administrative trap.

And, you know, it takes, I think, us talking [00:25:00] publicly about how we see our forms of practice to be very different and much more, um, intentional in their difference that can help inspire other people to be able to do the same thing. But again, it's like a lot, right? It's just, is at the same time a lot.

And you know, I have a, a, a probably extreme sentence of responsibility, generally speaking fault. Um, but I have felt that, you know, particularly over the last five or six years, that I need to be very vocal around the fact that I value my form of practice under different terms than how it might have been valued previously.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Mollie Claypool: And, that it's possible to do this work. But it does come at sacrifice of other things that it's possible to, um, think differently about the way that you talk about what your work can do, [00:26:00] um, and not dumb it down

Evan Troxel: Hmm mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: and to make sure that you know, you know, that it's possible to actually speak the language of construction just as much as it is to speak the language of design, if you're really thinking about that being a core concern and issue that you're taking on board as part of the project.

So for us, it's always ingrained in that middle zone, right? Like for me it's always been. What comes in that gap is the bulk of the work that we have to do and, and if we can, and you know, what is the right language for that, I guess is also something that coming back to as well. So, yeah, it's not a com it's not a easy, simple answer to your question.


Evan Troxel: Nope, I know. Yeah.

Mollie Claypool: multifaceted one that you can see at many different angles from the meta to much more specific and individual.

Evan Troxel: How did you get that experience of being able to speak both of those languages and then kind of synthesize something new or different [00:27:00] or, you know, figure out how to explain that without dumbing it down? I.

Mollie Claypool: Um, so I have always liked to build things. When I was eight, I went into the woods by my parents house and like built my own mini cabins and things like that. You know, I've always just been able to, um, to, to talk about what it should be, you know, and be able to. I don't know. It's maybe it's an intuitive thing, I guess

Evan Troxel: Yeah.


Mollie Claypool: it's also been spending time with, um, with people in construction.

So I've spent a lot of time with tradies, as we called 'em out in the, here in the uk I've spent a lot of time with different laborers, carpenters, joint, you know, brickies,

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Mollie Claypool: and, you know, just demonstrated to them that I am, I want to know what they know, you know, I want to understand how they see the world.

And I think once you start building that trust that you're not there just to tell them you know, like [00:28:00] that thing. Then you break down that barrier and you get on the same plane. in my work, I've always, I think, taken a very community driven approach, even just the way that I have a one-to-one conversation.

And that has helped me a lot in having some, what could be really difficult conversations,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: people on site.

Evan Troxel: there's not a lot of opportunity for people in architecture to do that. Right. There's like, it's like, keep people at their desks, keep people productive, and then that means that you can't, just because you're, you're so focused on that means that there's just no time to do the other thing. It's, it's away from the office.

Obviously people can take a proactive approach to this and make it happen, but I think at, at scale or at at large, that isn't really happening. There's not that opportunity.

Mollie Claypool: I think you do have to take a proactive approach to it. I think that, and that's a shame, but it's also an opportunity, um, to listen[00:29:00] 

Evan Troxel: yeah.

Mollie Claypool: to not know, to know that you aren't the expert,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm. , yeah.

Mollie Claypool: reality. Like, just that as a base level is very difficult for a lot of architects to consider because they have, uh, you know, eight years of education or long,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: of studying, you know, the, the expertise I, um, issue, I think. is a big one that we have to confront, and as soon as you admit that you're not an expert in someone else's lived experience, then that really breaks down, you know, your own perception of your role. So yes, you can be proactive in trying to gain those experiences, but I also think it's a mentality for how you do work

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: too.

You know, just in an office and whatever you're doing, I think you can still, you can transform your mentality about it, then you can actually open yourself up to opportunities that wouldn't necessarily seem as opportunities to begin with.

Evan Troxel: Yeah, I, I, [00:30:00] the, the whole point of, you know, going to architecture, well, not the whole point that one of the major kind of underlying things about architecture school is it's training you for a white collar job. Right. And then there's this blue collar job, you know, in, you know, I guess it's not even an air quotes, it's, it's, it's a real thing.

And there's a huge, uh, shift. Been away from blue collar work for a very long time. Right. Especially with people going to university. I mean, it's, it's all about training people to become knowledge workers. It reminds me of a book I read a long time ago and I need to reread it, called Shop Class as Soulcraft, and it's about the value of blue collar work.

I am. I can't exactly remember the, the author's name, Matthew something. I'll look it up and I'll add it to the show notes. But it's an, it's, it's coming from the perspective of a guy who went, I think he was a psychologist, ended up working at a think tank, like very cerebral, very white collar training, and then opened up like a motor, [00:31:00] motorcycle, um, maintenance kind of job.

And, and just really got into the value of thinking with your hands, putting things together, taking things apart, like the puzzle aspect of it. And it kind of gets back to this whole idea of what your brain is wired for. And I think about students who are growing up in urban areas. Like you said, you went out to the woods and you would build stuff.

and that opportunity barely exists in urban centers where these big architecture schools are, and construction sites are run by regulatory agencies. Right. And so you can't just walk onto a construction site like OSHA's there or whatever, and there's risk and there's all these things and you, and so it is hard, like, so, so being proactive about that is something that it, there needs to be advocates in every area here for that bridge to get crossed.

I mean, if there's no advocacy, if there are people who are just trying to fit in [00:32:00] and make sure all the boxes are checked and it's gonna keep everyone in their lane, right? And so to build that advocacy across all of these different silos so that the cross-disciplinary connections can be made because there's value in those, it needs to be somebody's, uh, big project, right?

Like this is the kind of.

Mollie Claypool: I think that, I think that that is ultimately an amazing space to be working in. And I think also it comes, you know, it comes down to, it doesn't even need to be about walking in a construction site or having access to a field. It's about this idea of, um, know, value, knowing that your curiosity is valuable,

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Mollie Claypool: um, and to even know how to engage with your own sense of curiosity.

Evan Troxel: I, I,

Mollie Claypool: first

Evan Troxel: I love that.

Mollie Claypool: school, it's, you know, you, you get taught how to read a plan [00:33:00] in a section, you know, but you also get taught how to think.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: if that could happen even earlier in education, it, a successful education for me would be able to be taught that as early on, that your own curiosity is valuable

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: and that enables you to tinker, Even if it's just in your thoughts, tinker with ideas and creativity and to explore how things feel for you, how your view of the world, um, is unique and can be seen in different ways. And I think that, you know, architecture school does do that to a certain degree, but then it doesn't find a way to translate that tinkering, hacking curiosity into how to converse in a professional environment.

Evan Troxel: Well, and, and when you

Mollie Claypool: where we have a great opportunity to like learn from sociology, right? Because how to ask the right que or anthropology, they know how to ask the right questions

Evan Troxel: mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: to get people to share their own lived experiences. So I actually draw a lot in my work [00:34:00] from, anthropological techniques that to kind of open those rather than to assume that they're closed.

Evan Troxel: Most jobs for recent graduates are just do the thing, right. Apply the skill. Don't, don't be curious. It's amazing how much curiosity is available. in those people who just came out of like the most incredibly creative time in their whole life so far. Like the output is insane, and then it's like sit in the jaw, sit in the chair, and draw the lines that somebody else is telling it.

It's what a shift and how many people does that neuter, like within the next five years? To just, just do the task. Just be a task generator?

Mollie Claypool: Yeah.

I mean, I can't, I can count, I don't know, on two hands of 80 of us people that I know are still are doing interesting things from my graduating class, [00:35:00] know? Um, which is, I mean, there are people who are still doing some interesting things, but a lot of people have left,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: you know, because they either got burned out or job was too dull or they went into another direction

Evan Troxel: Or demoralized Or,

Mollie Claypool: or demoralized for too long whatever it looks like.

You know? And I think to, to be able to know that it's also okay to have that alternative path is something that we should encourage much more,

Evan Troxel: Oh, yeah. That's a big deal. Yep.

Mollie Claypool: Yeah, at AUAR, we have always tried to do a different form of practice, you know, like not be an architecture practice as, or an architecture firm as, you know, quote unquote, try to do a different form of practice, try to organize in a different way, try to have a different kind of hierarchy and structure to try and live our values, which are ultimately about being able to be as accessible as possible,

Evan Troxel: Clearly this lights you up like [00:36:00] you're, you're grinning as you're saying this stuff. And I want, this is the perfect segue because I wanted to get back to what is your form of practice? Can you explain what you're doing, what your approach is? What makes it different? Like, or, you know, what are you trying to do there?

Mollie Claypool: So at automated architecture, we set up, um, a tech company, so we have developed approach uses. A microfactory with robotics to build homes, sustainable timber homes, and essentially we've productized a house

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.


Mollie Claypool: And, um, know, it has a lot of connections to the 1950s stories of post-war housing, right?

Like, how do you get as much housing as possible? That's decent quality up as fast as possible. way to do that is to do manufacturing,

Evan Troxel: Mm.

Mollie Claypool: homes. [00:37:00] There's no way to do it with the way that we build traditional timber frame or block precast concrete

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Mollie Claypool: whatever. because the infras, there's too much infrastructure that's needed.

at AUAR, we really focus on providing the technological, the technological infrastructure make. Builders able to build more efficiently with much less risk. So the way that we've done this is we've developed, uh, a series of housing products that are high quality, sustainable, net zero homes, beautiful, simple, but beautiful homes.

Um, they're with our proprietary building system, which is based on, essentially it's their Lego like, or Mac like. there's one building block that can be combined together in many different ways, create many different kinds of houses, and it can be robotically prefabricated in a [00:38:00] microfactory,

Evan Troxel: Okay.

Mollie Claypool: that it can be produced, manufactured, and produced close to site, you know, without huge transport costs, which in the US is a big issue in Europe.

It's also a big issue depending on where you are, and it can be delivered within six weeks.

Evan Troxel: I have no idea what the highway system is like in England, but so, so this idea of micro factories is really important to what you're, you're talking about

Mollie Claypool: It is localized. Manufacturing is really important to what we're doing.

Evan Troxel: and, and so then it just becomes like a different logistics problem, right? It's, it's about spooling up a factory and taking down a factory potentially when a, when a job is done. Um, I think one of the biggest things that, that this allows. When people, when you talk about delivering housing at scale is by doing a factory kind of a build where you're, you're obviously there's, there's craftsmanship and tolerances and, and especially when you're [00:39:00] working with robotics that are able to be met for higher quality output, but also it allows you to parallelize tasks, right?

That stuff can be being built while the, the site is being prepared, whereas traditional construction, it's all sequential, right? You have to do this before that, and so by doubling up these tracks of, you know, building the spaces while the site's being prepared, while the under, you know, it just, it, it opens up opportunity for things to actually go faster.

I don't know that it actually makes things cost less from people that I've talked to on the modular prefabrication side, they say actually doesn't cost less, but it saves you a ton of time. Right? And so it that there's a, there is a time is money component to that For sure. For sure.

Mollie Claypool: Yeah. I mean the modular, we are not a, i I, I struggle with being called a modular building system.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: I, or a modular building, a modular company. We are not quite, because modular building [00:40:00] companies or modular housing factories are, have to be big. They have to be expensive. take very long time to set up right.

yeah, their product, generally speaking, still requires a lot of manual labor. So even though there can be that paralyzed parallelization,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: um, they still can take upwards of two to three years to set up. about a factory that can be essentially productized, so it can be brought to site and set up in less than a month, and that means that you can get a much shorter payback time in comparison to large mo modular factory.

You can be closer to site, all of those great things. Um, so, you know, I think we have to look, you know, really carefully. And the, the problem with modular housing factories is that they have to, because they're so expensive, they have to have really high quantities. So even though we need really high quantities of housing, we need a large pipeline to be able to go through a factory.

They're so [00:41:00] expensive that the, if there's anything that goes wrong, they're not agile enough as a model to be able to accommodate for problems,

Evan Troxel: and you have to match, you have to match supply and demand, right? And so you are creating very expensive things. There's like no other way to slice that. These are the most expensive things that people buy, most likely. And so the, the throughput is essential, and at the same time, it has to match the demand.

Does that exist or not? And, and where is it coming from?

Mollie Claypool: which is why a microfactory is great, right? Because you essentially be able to adapt the microfactory to your pipeline rather than your pipeline having to adapt to the factory or the to fail the pipeline.

Evan Troxel: By adapt, what do you mean by that? Do you mean the size of the factory? The throughput of the factory? Like what are you talking?

Mollie Claypool: the factory, has a, has a, um, a set throughput, can be, it's a modular factory, so it can be, you can have multiple factories, copy and paste next to each other to make a larger factory. And because we have a networked approach [00:42:00] in that, we have a, we're developing a microfactory network of many smaller micro factories.

one part of the pipeline, one part of the network has a larger pipeline, you can actually pull it through another. Microfactory in the network

Evan Troxel: makes sense. Okay.

Mollie Claypool: it allows us to be much more agile and adaptive to the supply and demand shifts that the market inevitably will have.

Evan Troxel: it's like a decentralized model, right? . It's like this sharing of resources. Okay. So let, let's talk about the labor component. I mean, you're talking about robotics. Explain what that means because I think one of the arguments that I've heard the benefit of the, I like the localized, uh, microfactory ideas, that there's also job opportunities for local labor, right?

And that helps build community, things like that. I'm not sure that's happening in your model or not. So maybe talk about the, the labor side of things or versus, or in, in concert with the robotics side of things.

Mollie Claypool: So we s we, um, partner with contractors for the delivery of the houses. [00:43:00] that are in our pipeline. Um, so we provide as AUAR, some design services to clients, developers, et cetera. And then we also partner with contractors that those developers might be working with or with other contractors that might have their own pipeline.

that means we set up the microfactory, um, either near to onsite or within contractors' existing spaces. And in that microfactory itself, we can automate prefabrication of the building system in its entirety. The one thing that we can't do is automate, um, volumetric delivery because that's too large and too, just too large

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Mollie Claypool: can do a pretty good job of that with gantry systems and tracking, um, tracking systems. So we essentially go from a sheet of timber to as much of a finished house as possible. Within that microfactory, it still requires some manual labor for finishing. know, we, we don't put in [00:44:00] insulation using the robots, for example, because humans are just better.

But we do, uh, offer the blocks up for humans to put in the labor, which means that they could be moved much more easily cuz the blocks a little bit heavy. Now

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: quite large blocks at this point. So we use the automation in the microfactory for the things that would either be very slow for humans to do, moving blocks around, very hard for humans to do, moving blocks around assembling blocks, which is very repetitive work that takes a lot on your body.

I've assembled probably a thousand blocks at this point myself, um, over the year, over the last few years, and it is, It is painful. It's like you don't wanna be doing it. Um, so we do the most high value add parts of the production chain with the robotics and then the most high value add parts of the production chain with people that, um, for their skill sets.

Evan Troxel: So it really is kind of this, uh, I mean, I hate to say well oiled [00:45:00] machine, but you've taken the best parts of both worlds, right? To be able to drive the most value at the, the least physically. Um, detrimental parts for the, for the people. Right. Put that on the robots. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.

Mollie Claypool: Because also, you know, we have to reckon with the fact that in, in construction, the largest age group is the largest increasing age group is 60 plus.

Evan Troxel: That makes total sense. It's, it's kind of,

Mollie Claypool: crisis.

Evan Troxel: this is that gap.

Mollie Claypool: people to do terrible jobs anymore that are physically demanding on their body.

Evan Troxel: there is that part that the, the terrible part of the jobs and then there's the part of like, nobody wanted to send their kids to school to become those part of the job. Getting back to that, that blue collar work. Yep. Yep. So it's interesting.

So with this new model, is it attractive to younger generations? I kind of assume it. It is,

Mollie Claypool: [00:46:00] tech job and it's cool, right? They're working with robots. That's awesome. we got a lot of, we got a lot of people inquiring to, to work with us, um, because they see a robot. you know, they might have done some, we get a lot of people who play video games, for example. You they, identify already with these technologies.

Evan Troxel: Interesting.

Mollie Claypool: might have built some of their own tools already, and it all of a sudden becomes cool. And the thing, the other thing to say is that even a job someone who's a technician in an AUAR, microfactory, you don't need to be a roboticist.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm. . Right?

Mollie Claypool: can just be a kid who's interested in tech wants a job, Yeah. It could be almost anyone. We can then we, that's a lot of the work, that community work that I've done is about like, testing out if that was really possible.

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Mollie Claypool: so all the kind of interfaces that we've developed for the tools that we use are very, are designed to be low threshold it's important.

It's an important part of our differentiator [00:47:00] is that we can, uh, Enable different subset of the population, a different demographic to want to do this work.

Evan Troxel: Right. So what's that? I mean, you, you said it's attractive to people. So what does that mean for you? I mean, the, it seems like, like you are creating a portal for people to get into this industry who probably never had it on their radar. So like in raw, kind of, what, what's your sense of, of how attractive that's really been for, for the younger generation to get into?

Mollie Claypool: So we've done a lot of work in, um, in the states would be high schools, but here it's called, they're called colleges, 16 to 18 year olds who have started to specialize in their interests. So we've worked, uh, done a lot of work in bricklaying programs and carpentry programs, multidisciplinary programs, and as soon as you show people that they can work with a robot, they get really excited.

Evan Troxel: Hmm

Mollie Claypool: That's the main thing. They're like [00:48:00] robotics. Awesome. And it's also just really important because in the UK the of people who are working as casual laborers on job sites are also the demographic of people who have least success in school.

Evan Troxel: Hmm. Yeah,

Mollie Claypool: So traditional school. we get them at age 16 to 18, before they even go out into the workforce, we're demonstrating that there's a potential opportunity space that's growing, where they can have quite a lot of ownership and authorship by using their, by using the knowledge that they might have gained already from some of their education.

And by tapping into a bit of knowledge and a bit of the way of working, you know, this idea of visual learning or being an object learner, um, tapping into that earlier before they, let's say, get too conditioned by traditional construction to not see the opportunity space that exists by working with us.

Evan Troxel: That's really interesting. I mean, even I, I even think that there's kids way younger [00:49:00] than that who've been completely knee capped by the education system, right? Because they didn't fit the mold that's been identified as the one way that you go through school. And I mean, it, it's really, I mean, it's great that you're reaching kids as young as 16 and at the same time it's like that's, I wonder how many students don't even make it that far before.

They're just what, and, and I also really appreciate your perspective on showing them something that is exciting when, and mixing that with kind of traditional construction jobs. Because traditional labor in construction sites is kind of backbreaking, you know, it people, it's, it's interesting that there's so many people over 60 and yet, like how hard it is on people to be a construction worker.

Right. And, and I, I'm sure that's why a lot of people leave as well, um, is just because it's so physically demanding. And so to, to start to create [00:50:00] opportunities to change that narrative is really an interesting way. Or, you know, I, I, it probably wasn't planned out that way to be, to be said exactly like that, but it is an outcome of.

Putting, injecting robotics into it to say, look, the, the robot's gonna do the heavy lifting, we're gonna use you for, for the most valuable thing on the construction site. And I also love this idea of young people coming to work in a microfactory and just that amazing, uh, satisfying feeling of actually building real things, right?

That like, there's a major difference there between that and, and the video game thing, like the throwaway aspect of the video game accomplishments, right? But it's like you're making real things for real people and they're gonna live their life in that. And because it's a better building, they're going to have a better life.

I mean, I, you can kind of sell this story not in a slimy selling kind of a way, but, but like, it really makes a difference the, the spaces that [00:51:00] people inhabit. Change their outlook and their contribution back to community. Right. And I think that's a lot of the stuff that doesn't get talked about enough when we start to talk about this need for housing.

Right? It's like if everyone had this kind of basic right of, of housing that was better than average, then you would have better than average opportunities for, for people to contribute back into society because that would be taken care of.

Mollie Claypool: a hundred percent. And I mean, we, we saw that in the work that we've done it with no West Media Center. Directly. You know, one of the things that, some of the participants said to us was that they didn't feel like they had any authority

Evan Troxel: Hmm.

Mollie Claypool: take ownership of any part of their community, they didn't believe that they had this, they had been told their whole life that they didn't have anything good to offer. then all of a sudden, over a period of time of working together, they realize that they have so much to offer. Like even if you can just [00:52:00] change the lives of a few people in a small community to dem see that they have opportunity to explore their own world in a really meaningful way and contribute to the construction of that world in a meaningful way, I think that that have knock on effects that are so intangible that we can't really, um, we can't really underestimate them.

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Mollie Claypool: And so I love the work that my, our collaborators at Homeless Media Center are doing now. they're working closely in their community to essentially build backyard homes, but through a community land trust where members of that community give up land that they own over to the community land trust for them to build small backyard homes members of that community that are in need.

And it's just this circular, you can see how it can build the circular effect of that people's perceptions. The sense of community, sense of ownership, sense of authorship, sense of responsibility and maintenance. All of these things come together in a really [00:53:00] beautiful way. Then on,

Evan Troxel: That's incredible. I, I haven't heard of that system. it's like a Phil philanthropic kind of act that that's happening. Right. And to be on the receiving end of that has just gotta be like, we've all seen the home renovation shows where the team comes in and the everyone's crying by the end.

Right. I can't when, when that's happening for real people and it's not on TV . Right. It's gotta be absolutely incredible to be a receiver of. that gift. Right. And, and just the agency that, that would be giving people to, like you said, like they didn't have those opportunities. We didn't know what they were capable of because they never had the agency to become the author of their community in any way.

And what that could contribute back to, to all kinds of things. I, it's it, what an amazing story.

Mollie Claypool: I feel like AUAR is trying to do that, but on a much more [00:54:00] from a slightly more zoomed out position. right. So our collaborators are doing it in a very zoomed, in

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: intentions of scaling this to do so, which I'll, I'll send you, um, the project, but what we're trying to do is across, across countries and regions, right?

Evan Troxel: Yeah. You're talking about the puzzle scale and everyone's, piece of the puzzle is very important. Right. But, but they can't affect the whole puzzle. They can only affect the puzzle piece right next to them. Right. They can touch that one, but, but you

Mollie Claypool: people to adopt

Evan Troxel: mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: parts of their methodology.

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: But about being able to do that in a super horizontal way

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: globally? , it requires a kind of slightly different level of scaler thinking

Evan Troxel: Sure.

Mollie Claypool: there's things that won't be able to be replicable in every places when you're zoomed in to a hyper-local [00:55:00] setting.

Evan Troxel: Right.

Mollie Claypool: So we've always taken the position of that hyper-local setting is super important for giving us baselines,

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: And being able to tell us, know, what that baseline should be and how should we begin to, uh, test it against other baselines or other communities or other places. the intention has always been to be at a much more zoomed out scale,

Evan Troxel: Yeah.

Mollie Claypool: I love the vision.

You know, I love the idea of a network of contractors collaborating together super efficiently in really localized settings, but globally sharing information about how they're doing and how they're doing it, and where they're finding problems and barriers and bottlenecks and else. And then at the same time, being able to. Lock in members of their community in ways that they haven't been able to locked into before into this story and being able to give people great living environments as a result. It's like,

Evan Troxel: Right. Win, win, win.

Mollie Claypool: vision, right?[00:56:00] 

Evan Troxel: it. It's interesting to think about it as a platform for communication between what we're previously probably considered as compe in a competitive environment. And we see this with architecture everywhere, right? We see it as like this intellectual property and, and this information can't be shared.

It's totally holding everybody back, right? If you have contractors who are, like you're saying if there's enough work for everybody, all of a sudden it changes the conversation away from it being a competitive environment to saying, no, let's share what's working amongst everybody and let's ditch the stuff that's not working amongst everybody so that we can raise all boats together.

And that, like you said, completely changes the conversation, makes it really. Valuable for the entire industry. And we need to see that more on the architecture side as well. But there's not this kind of overarching puzzle scale level. It happens on in some ways. Um, [00:57:00] like I used to be part of the AIA's large firm Roundtable, and with the, the technology side of that, people were very open to share what was working, what's not working with everybody else around the table.

And you know, it's 50 large firms in the US who are coming together. But getting from that talk to action is a very different story, right? Because there's so many other layers to that onion before the rubber hits the road. Like there's so many cliches here, I apologize, but it's, it's one of those things where it's like, Some sharing is happening, but if it isn't actually making its way to the person who swings the hammer or operates the robot, then it doesn't actually matter, right?

It actually has to trickle down. It has to get outside of the closed door room conversations and be shared in this more, way more open source kind of a manner, um, for it to be truly effective and, and raise everybody up.

Mollie Claypool: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think, you know, part of the way that we can begin to [00:58:00] get people onboarded into this kind of project, or at least the scale of this kind of project, is by, you know, the way that we've done it, at least, is by demonstrating the value add. So, you know, at least in Europe, ESG requirements are becoming strict for contractors.

Sustainability is becoming a very large issue. Being able to demonstrate the benefit of localized manufacturing on those issues. Working in this way on those issues has been a huge way to convince people they can do it. And the of doing it, of course, is by cost, right? Being able to show that you can still save and increase your margins by working in this manner because you're being able to benefit from everyone that's participating in the network is something that really gets people quickly interested, So in

AUAR, we say we have been able to demonstrate that contractors can five times their margins by working Imagine the freedom,[00:59:00] 

Evan Troxel: Right.

Mollie Claypool: That comes with that

Evan Troxel: That's incredible.

Mollie Claypool: um, it up, it can upend a lot of the normal conventions. Obviously, when it comes to developers, they have their own cost structures and things like that.

But if we can deliver a more de-risked and predictable product and enable contractors to operate in a far less precarious environment. still be able to keep their costs down in terms of how they deliver projects. Like it's a win.

Evan Troxel: Do they become salespeople in your marketing department? Like, like, you know what I mean? Like, like extended version of that, but do they ac want, if there's that vision there and they're, they're like, sold on it. I'm all I'm in, do they then start to tell that story to their local communities?

Mollie Claypool: Yeah. I mean there's definitely a kind of early adopter effect, right? So, um, I see that network effect as being super beneficial where we actually get a lot of, um, marketing opportunity from his other architects.

Evan Troxel: Interesting.[01:00:00] 

Mollie Claypool: we have, you know, a very extensive international. Network of architects that we either know or have worked with or know of us.

And we get a lot of inquiries from people who would like to work with our building system. And, you know, that something that's really exciting for us because essentially, you know, we are showing that it's possible to still have work with a kind of, with work, with a building system, but still have a, a huge degree of creativity.

that for architects is really exciting and also some of their other problems

Evan Troxel: Yeah. And it gives them a way to kind of dip into this productized architecture segment, which most architects aren't working in. Right. So it's gotta be. this, it's a, it's another incentive to, they're like, architects are just kind of insatiably curious, right? And so this other thing that, that's now out there that they've become aware of has gotta be really interesting kind of tantalizing to go like, chase that, chase that and see where it goes.

That's pretty cool.

Mollie Claypool: Totally, [01:01:00] totally, totally. know, giving people a kind of opportunity to explore, you know, the best parts about being an architect, which is being a, a creative rather than, um, you know, having to worry about how things go together all the

Evan Troxel: Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm.

Mollie Claypool: like the unknowns that come with that sometimes And with us, there's a level of predictability, transparency that you can't get in you've tried and trusted things many times.

Evan Troxel: And it's gotta be closer to like, you've, you've, you actually have bridged the gap by creating this network of construction professionals. And you've got this, obviously the handle on the architecture side to be able to. and even the piece in the middle of manufacturing and production, it's like, here's what we know.

And it's like, it almost becomes like this Wikipedia of AUAR right, which is, here's how we do it, here's what works, here's what we know doesn't work. And like that has gotta be an incredible [01:02:00] resource to have your finger on the pulse of all those things. Because in traditional practice where I come from, right, it's a low bid scenario and it's adversarial by nature.

It's designed to be that way, right? It's, and, and under the guise of like, we're protecting the public to get the lowest cost possible. . It's like low fee, low bid. What could go wrong? Everything could go wrong, it turns out right,

Mollie Claypool: Yes,

Evan Troxel: so, um, it's rare when it actually works. And those stories are like the stories of legend when they do, when they're, when they're incredible.

But if that becomes normal, if that's normalized, that changes the, the game for everybody.

Mollie Claypool: Totally.

It does.

Evan Troxel: Well, Molly, it's been a fantastic conversation. I've had a lot of fun.

Mollie Claypool: Thanks me too.

Evan Troxel: I I would love to point everyone in the, in your direction. So give everybody the URL where they can head over to see your work. And I'll include all the links [01:03:00] in the show notes so they don't have to memorize it.

But I would love to give you kind of the opportunity to tell everybody where you're doing your work online so they can follow along.

Mollie Claypool: Great. You can find us@automatedarchitecture.io. I'm on Instagram at Molly Claypool and AUAR is underscore underscore a u a r,

Evan Troxel: Perfect.

Mollie Claypool: we're on all the social media. and follow us.

Evan Troxel: Thank you, Molly. This has been wonderful.

Mollie Claypool: Thanks Evan.

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