Work produced during the Timber Studio investigated robotic steam bending, where a robot’s ability to shape custom framing members and assemble unique parts is leveraged to construct complex material arrays.
The investigation was executed through the design, prototyping, and assembly of a full-scale truss module to be used as spanned roof support for a natatorium.
Robotic steam bending
Advised by Josh Bard
In collaboration with Josh Kim, Carter Nelson, and Catherine Zanardi
Robotically Augmented Wood Construction
Augmented Wood Construction forefronts the need for resourcefulness in contemporary architectural practice. The investigation positions a renewed interest in wood construction (an ecologically sane material appropriate for many building types) relative to emerging technologies in robotically assisted fabrication. As designers recoup this traditional building material, emerging digital technologies are poised to re-frame the what, why, and how of timber construction.
At its most basic – steam bending involves putting cuts of wood in a steam chamber, which uses steam to transfer heat to the timber – making them more pliable and able to be shaped using jigs and similar equipment.
Steam bending hardwoods creates complex forms that naturally propose exciting possibilities for material arrays. Pattern exploration for application as architectural frames or large span structures was studied through the aid of parametric 3D models. Three-dimensional simulations allowed studies of material connection points, the flow of stress through the structure, as well as sculptural and spatial views of the patterned truss system. Grasshopper's parametric modeling, paired with the robot's ability to shape custom frame members, introduced the idea of pattern manipulation across the framework.
Feedback between the full-scale, singular prototypes and the digitally created, massed patterns helped to create an informed truss system. Architecturally, the trusses were imagined to span as arches, caught by concrete buttresses and boundary walls to resolve into the building's base. The truss used reductive geometry, stemming from cubes, circles, hexagons, and triangles, to resolve its complicated form and fabrication process. Although composed of 18 members, each module of the truss utilizes only 3 types of bends to create simplification for the larger truss system's potential for formal distortion.