Post-Digital Timber Architecture

Wong Long Hin Nichol
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, School of Architecture, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Project idea

This project studies expanding methods for traditional glue-laminated timber construction with the aim to practically integrate these into hyper light-weight structural systems. It explores the non-standard timber architecture design solution space that is broadened by the use of digital design tools that reducing design complexity while simultaneously minimising construction complexity. By reducing fabrication difficulties, especially in developing countries, non-standard, high-performance, sustainable timber architectural design is promoted. Evolutionary optimisation algorithms allow for non-linear design optimisation for both structural and materialisation performance.

Project description

This project focusses on one type of the hyper light-weight system: Catenary Timber Structures. Catenary structures are a structural suspension system in which the form is generated by the weight of the structure itself, forming a tension-only system in which every part of the form is in equilibrium. This system is much more material-efficient, cost effective and ecologically sustainable than conventional girders under bending stress, as the use of material strength is at its maximum throughout the suspended beam section. As a result, 90% of construction material required is reduced, proved by a structural analysis software.

A method is proposed that employs genetic algorithms to simplify the fabrication of a suspended roof structure’s range of weight-saving, catenary-shaped beams. To minimize the number of costly high-strength steel pressure vice setups required for their individual production, idealized curve geometries are minimally tweaked until a single, reusable jig setup becomes possible. When combined with a wooden roof underfloor, tectonic systems that employ such beams have the potential to dramatically reduce structure material requirements while producing architecturally engaging and spatially complex nonstandard space.

The method’s validity, applicability and architectural design opportunity space is tested, evaluated and discussed through a conceptual architectural design project proposal of a Visitor and Education Centre at FRIM, Malaysia, that operates as demonstrator, expanding the potential of non-standard, sustainable timber architecture.

Technical information

The idealized curve geometries used to make the reusable jig is generated by using Galapagos Plugin of Grasshopper. By generating a random NURBS curve and input the glulam curve to be fabricated, and calculate the total deflection of the NURBS curve from the input shape, a desire position for the input shape is found with the minimum deflection.
When you input a numbers of glulam curves, galapagos will keep on finding the best shape for all of the curves, just like the idea of a "French Curve". Each of the input curves sharing a part of the final jig's curvature, thus the reusable jig setup becomes possible. This would dramatically reduce the complexity of fabrication the suspension glulam structure.

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