‘Unlikely Professionals’ and the Economy of Automation, Part II

Part II: The Automation Integration Centre 

This short essay forms both mission statement and reflection upon the work undertaken while studying for the MArch in Architecture & Town and Regional Planning in Studio FutureWorks under the tutelage of Renata Tyszczuk and Julia Udall. Tapping into a long-running research interest of the intersection of technology, society and democracy, my work explored the specific thread of increasing automation and its effects on the unskilled and low skilled workers it threatens to replace.

The first section, here, explored the economic and socio-technological context surrounding equality in work and disruptive technologies. This post applies the research discussed in Part 1 into an architectural proposal for an Automation Integration Centre (AIC) located in Catcliffe, near the Advanced Manufacturing park enterprise zone.

Robot Reanimation.jpg

Reinventing what is understood by robotic workers

Within this context, my proposal, the Automation Integration Centre (AIC) offers an alternative to what the current advanced manufacturing park, and enterprise zones generally, offer. Instead of improving efficiency of assembly lines through automation for the benefit of wealthy corporate backers at the expense of the workforce, the AIC argues to empower workers with this technology. The solution, I argue, is education and the provision of space for testing and incubation of small enterprises working alongside this technology.


Luddites and the industrial politics of the Derwent Valley

In the early 1800s, the Luddites fear of job loss to technology led to a destructive streak and the loss of many new machines. This rejection of the technology outright turned the Luddites’ backs upon the untapped potential – without truly engaging alongside the technology they never benefitted from it. In their eyes, it was either the way they knew in experience and learned skills, or no way, there was no considered engagement. Learning from this all-or-nothing approach, the proposal seeks an integrated relationship reducing the unknown qualities that often lead to rejection. This integrated relationship will ultimately lead to the education and creation of ‘unlikely professionals’ with capable systems displacing traditional professions whose gated knowledge is creaking under a technology based internet society1.

One of the moves toward integration is the necessity of a reconfiguration of the human-robotic interactive relationship. Asimov’s famous 3 laws2 outline the critical functions of a robot acting on humans, built upon by Schodt for Japan’s ‘ten principles of robot law’3. The EURON Roboethics Atelier in their Roboethics Roadmap4 attempt to present standard for the EU in robotics, namely: safety, security, traceability, identifiability and privacy. Shared by these proposals is a distinctly anthropocentric ethical position. In return, a membership charter for the AIC proposes an equal rights charter, that outlines ethical responsibility for both robots and human action on the site. This move shifts a viewpoint from the robot as a tool of advanced work toward one where the robot has an equal share in the work produced on site.

AF_07_Urban Strategy.jpg

The proposed development in Catcliffe, with the AIC located centrally

Located just off the AMP and nestled between the AMRC and a proposed mixed use developed built upon the history of the old Orgreave Colliery, the AIC is situated physically and thematically between capitalist monopoly and political upheaval.

Between Sheffield and Rotherham, the site is well connected by transport infrastructure, both road and public transport links. Capitalising upon this network, it is possible to circumvent restrictive enterprise zone place-specific policy and take workshops to the populace further out in the region. This is achieved through the development of self-contained ‘cocoons’, that can be placed onto lorries and trains. In this sense, the AIC is in actuality a networked system, a 21st century Potteries Thinkbelt5, with the communal factory at its hub.

AF_09_Roving Robotics.jpg

A ‘roving robotics’ for the hub and spoke network of Mesters

This hub and spoke nodal system, democratises the enterprise zone policy, by breaking down place-specific locality and engaging with parties at the locations where they live, as opposed to previous displacement criticisms. The pods acting as harbingers from the central hub provide flexibility to emerging techno-social patterns, as new makers’ groups form and embed, the pods can work with these patterns – both spatial and temporal. This ability to engage with interested parties as, when and where they appear, flips the placement of power from large corporations’ monolithic factories toward the creation of a dispersed, but connected, series of self-employed workers – celebrating and encouraging Sheffield’s heritage of Little Mesters’ workshops.

A self-expression of the particular robots’ capabilities, these pods base their circumference upon the maximum reach of each machine. The arm cocoons itself within a shell expressive of its means, employing techniques such as bending, welding and accurate assembly to this end. Following a work tour of fringe locations, including tapping into established FabLab6 communities such as Doncaster and related charities such as Access Space7 in Sheffield, they are temporarily embedded within the wildlife valley next to the Centre for use by local makers.

AF_11_Robotic Pods.jpg

Self-Cocooning travelling maker’s pods

At the site itself, the building proposes a new local factory model, one inspired as much by theatre and stage design and community building as factory. The programme incorporates a terrace and café alongside staples such as the factory floor organised along a spine that bisects the plans.

This core floor space manifests a customisable, reconfigurable double height factory floor operating around a modular bay system allowing the space to be used for workshops, seminars, and more personalised start-up offices as required. This heart is flanked by permanent bookends that include repair and assembly and design rooms that compliment and enable the factory floor itself.

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A central spine for co-circulation

Ultimately, these spaces aim to present industry and manufacture, especially automation, in a different light, one that gives agency to the individual, not the corporation. Viewed through the eyes of a potential new member, the AIC presents itself as a welcoming, open alternative to the closed facades of the AMRC. The factory floor is a space for collaboration, educational working, one that offers customisation for the individual project, not the robotic manufacturing line.

“At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man” wrote Oscar Wilde in 18918. It is toward this condition that the Automation Integration Centre seeks to progress local businesses in an inclusive, start-up and incubation oriented manner.



1 Susskind, R., Swinson, C., Ogilive, B., and Paine, C., 2001. The Future of the Professions. RSA Journal 148(5496) pp.20-27.

2 Asimov, I. Three Laws of Robotics. <http://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/robotics.html&gt;

3 Schodt, F.L., 1988. Inside the Robot Kingdom: Japan, Mechatronics and the coming robotopia. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

4 Veruggio, G., 2006. EURON Robethics Roadmap. 3 March. EURON Robethics Atelier. <http://www.roboethics.org/atelier2006/docs/ROBOETHICS%20ROADMAP%20Rel2.1.1.pdf&gt;

5 Price, C., 2007. Potteries Thinkbelt. Abingdon: Routledge.

6 FabLabs UK. <http://fablabsuk.co.uk/&gt;

7 Access Space, Sheffied. <http://access-space.org/&gt;

8 Wilde, O., 1891. The Soul of Man Under Socialism. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1017/1017-h/1017-h.htm&gt;


One response to “‘Unlikely Professionals’ and the Economy of Automation, Part II

  1. Pingback: ‘Unlikely Professionals’ and the Economy of Automation, Part I | Future Works·

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