In a recent post on the architect Otto Frei, we commented on how the pioneering architect managed to blur the line between natural structures and man made forms. In this post we look at a design from The Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart. What emerges here is the intersection between architecture, design, biology, palaeontology, or in short, this blurring of the distinction between what man makes and the forms that exist in nature.
The new research pavilion demonstrates numerous innovative approached to structural design, such as the robotic textile fabrication techniques for segmented timber shells. The pavilion is the first of its kind to employ industrial sewing of wood elements on an architectural scale. It is part of a successful series of research pavilions which showcase the potential of computational design, simulation and fabrication processes in architecture. The project was designed and realised by students and researchers within a multi-disciplinary team of architects, engineers, biologists, and palaeontologists.
Previous studies on sea urchins by the research partners led to the development of new constructional principles and methods for timber plate shells. Together with the University of Tübingen, pictures and SEM scans (scanning electron microscopy) were performed on several species in order to understand the intricate internal structures of sea urchins and sand dollars. Based on both the biological principles as well as the material characteristics, the material system was developed as a double-layered structure similar to the secondary growth in sand dollars. The building elements consist of extremely thin wood strips. Instrumentalising the anisotropy of wood, these strips are custom-laminated so that the grain direction and thickness corresponds with the differentiated stiffness required to form parts with varying radii.
As bending moments in the plywood strips due to external loads should generally be avoided, the joints between segments are designed for transferring in-plane normal and shear forces only. The pavilion consists of 151 segments that were prefabricated by robotic sewing. Each of them is made out of three individually laminated beech plywood strips. This multidisciplinary research approach led not only to a performatively and materially efficient lightweight structure, it also explores novel spatial qualities and expands the tectonic possibilities of wood architecture.
Photo credit: “www.archdaily.com”. Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from ITKE / University of Stuttgart.