Design By Data - Thesis Statement : Tectonic of discrete structures,

Wood-wood interlocking span system made with robots

© Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich

In the Age of a renewal of tectonic(1), understood as the emotional potential of a structure, brought by the digital turn of the building industry, hence powerful CAD software, increasing computational power and CNC technologies plus robotic fabrication, designers can now produce highly complex structures at a reasonable cost.

However, the actual building production paradigm which is sequenced in steps to erect a structure (design, structural validation and then construction) can not be applied to structural systems that are based on a looping design process between form and its corresponding structure’s assembly requirements and material properties. A new parametric setup of data(2) leads to a new field of structural innovations.

One of the most interesting opportunity due to its materiality, is the assembly of short elements to produce sustainable, long span and lightweight structures. The aim of this research project is to develop a 3D timber structure made of short longitudinal elements without any extra mechanical elements. This structure based on reciprocical frames will foster the use of wood-wood joints based on a kinematic non sequential assembly(3) to span over several times the length of individual elements, based on mechanical timber joints and on the aesthetic qualities of timber elements. Producing this new kind of structure based on the materiality of the studs should bring a new light on the tectonic of timber in the digital age, bridging ancient craftsmanship and cutting edge technologies(4) and open a path to highly flexible structures.

They are two key challenges to produce this kind of structures. On one hand, the description and computation of the geometry as data to design, manufacture and assemble properly every single element, and on the other hand, the computation of the mechanical strength of the joints. Mastering these two aspects can lead to an innovation that will allow elegant and low carbon footprint structures.

Recent years improvements in computational design (allowing for a greater understanding of material behavior and properties(5) and the opportunities opened up with robotic fabrication(6) transformed timber in a very high-tech and efficient material to design sensitive and sustainable structures(7).

Key words : timber studs, tectonic, geometry, robotic fabrication, reciprocal frame, kinetic assembly

Bibliography :

1 — LEACH, Neil, TURNBULL, David, Williams, Chris. Digital Tectonics. Wiley Academy. London. 2004

2 — TESSMAN, Oliver, SAVOV, Anton. Module and Jointing. In : Graz Architecture Magazine vol.12. Graz University of Technology 2016

3 — WILLMANN, Jan, GRAMAZIO, Fabio, KOHLER, Matthias. New paradigm of the automatic. in : Advancing Wood Architecture, a computational approach. Routledge, New York. 2016

4 — WEINAND, Yves. Advanced Timber Structures, Architectural designs and digital dimensioning

Birkauser. Basel. 2017

5 — MENGES, Achim. Material Synthesis : Fusing the Physicla and the computational. In Architectural Design vol 85, Sept-Oct 2015

6 — GRAMAZIO AND KOHLER RESEARCH. The Robotic Touch — How Robots change Architecture. Park books. Zurich. 2015

7 — OXMAN, Rivka, OXMAN, Robert. The new Structuralism : Engineering and Architectural Technologies. In Architectural Design vol. 80. July-Aug. 2010