Last edited 01 Jun 2016

Timber shell structure

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In April 2016, the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart completed a new research pavilion demonstrating robotic textile fabrication techniques for segmented timber shells.

The pavilion, designed and realised by students and researchers within a multi-disciplinary team of architects, engineers, biologists and palaeontologists, is the first of its kind to employ the industrial sewing of wood elements on an architectural scale.

The aim was to investigate the possible transfer of constructional principles and the development of new construction methods for timber plate shells based on the intricate shell structures of sea urchins and sand dollars.

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The building elements consist of extremely thin wood strips. These strips can be elastically bent into specific shapes, and locked into their deformed state by robotic sewing. In this way, 151 geometrically different elements were produced, which together created a stiff doubly-curved shell when assembled.

Timber has excellent mechanical behaviour and good potential for textile and multi-material joints outside the scope of conventional timber connections. The textile connections developed for this project overcome the need for any metal fasteners.

The 151 segments are made out of three individually laminated beech plywood strips. Ranging between 0.5-1.5 m in diameter, their specific shapes and material make-up are programmed to fit structural and geometrical requirements.

The entire structure weighs 780 kg and covers an area of 85 m², spanning 9.3 m. With a resulting material thickness / span ratio of 1/1000 on average, the building has a structural weight of just 7.85 kg/m².

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The overall design responds to site-specific conditions on the university campus. It establishes a semi-exterior space that integrates the ground topography as a seating landscape and opens towards the adjacent public square.

The research pavilion aims to showcase the potential of computational design, simulation and fabrication processes in timber architecture.

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Content courtesy of Stuttgart University

Image copyright Roland Halbe

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