Outpost Office uses GPS-controlled robots to design performance space

Ohio-based studio Outpost Office created a temporary “performance hall” that was drawn by GPS-controlled robots on grass using water-soluble paint.


Called Drawing Fields, the project was a set of site-specific 1:1 scale drawings created by GPS-controlled robots that produced what the project’s architects called “an unconventional stage.”

Top: The video is from Spirit of Space. Above: Drawing Fields was a temporary installation

Informed by earth art, robots drew temporary patterns using water-soluble, non-toxic paint on a large expanse of grass in sports-like formations line marks.

The installation was located in Ragdale, the former summer home of the late architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, Illinois, and was the winning entry for the 2020 Ragdale ring concours – an annual residency in which an architect builds a temporary performance venue on the grounds of Ragdale.

Ragdale Campus
The project took place on the Ragdale campus

Drawing Fields was designed to respond to the mobility theme of the competition.

“The design of each model took into account the unique perspectives possible through aerial photography and explored tactics of measurement, calibration and control across the landscape,” outpost office co-founders Ashley Bigham and Erik Herrmann told Dezeen.

GPS controlled robot
GPS-controlled robots created the designs

“Drawing Fields was a temporary performance location that used GPS-controlled terrain-marking robots to draw site-specific scale drawings of the building,” the designers explained.

During the period the installation was on display at Ragdale, the space was used for various performances. Each drawing in the field took two days for the robot to settle and disappeared after two to three weeks.

Painted performance space drawn by robots
Robots evoked abstract patterns

“They were very fleeting,” Bigham and Herrmann acknowledged. “There were no disposal fees or waste. Each drawing disappeared with rain, sun and growth. Within weeks the site was back to its original state.”

In order to design the project, the studio developed drawings in digital software such as Rhinoceros, which were converted to G-code – a CNC (computer numerical control) programming language – using a visual programming language Grasshopper.

“Essentially, this code is a long list of coordinates that direct the robot’s movements and tell it when and where to paint,” the designers said.

“Once loaded into the robot, the G-code enables the robot to operate semi-autonomously,” they continued.

aerial view
The facility was designed to be aerial view

Outpost Office placed a base station with a GPS receiver at Ragdale, which was connected to a network of satellites and communicated with the robot via an antenna.

“The robot is extremely accurate, but obstacles such as tree foliage and adjacent buildings can cause signal masking,” Bigham and Herrmann added. “In case of signal masking, the robot will be ‘lost’ and will need to be reconnected.”

Visitors to the facility by Outpost Office
Visitors were invited to interact with the space

Constrained by the limitations of the coronavirus, Outpost Office aimed to create a project that could be installed by a team of just two, which was then documented by drone video and released online.

“The project was inspired by the challenges faced by Ragdale Foundation early in the pandemic,” Bigham and Herrmann explained, referring to the organization that runs the Ragdale Ring.

“With the organization suddenly unable to open its grounds to the public, two related design challenges emerged for the annual Ragdale program: how to manufacture on a tight site and how to engage a radically distributed audience.”

Drawing Fields was shortlisted for this year’s Dezeen Awards in the Installation Design category.

Another project nominated for the prize is Chila Kumari Burman’s Brave New World, a Technicolor neon installation that adorns the Tate Britain museum.

Images courtesy of Outpost Office. The video is courtesy of The spirit of space.