Architecture

"World-first" twisting tower is made from timber that bends itself into shape

"World-first" twisting tower i...
Though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture
Though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture
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The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
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The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes
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Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes
The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
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The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
The Urbach Tower is finished with a protective facade of larch wood to prevent further warping
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The Urbach Tower is finished with a protective facade of larch wood to prevent further warping
Though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture
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Though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture
The Urbach Tower was assembled in a single day
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The Urbach Tower was assembled in a single day
The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
7/27
The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
8/27
The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
The Urbach Tower is finished with a protective facade of larch wood to prevent further warping
9/27
The Urbach Tower is finished with a protective facade of larch wood to prevent further warping
Though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture
10/27
Though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture
The Urbach Tower was made for Remstal Gartenschau 2019, a garden show in the German city of Schorndor
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The Urbach Tower was made for Remstal Gartenschau 2019, a garden show in the German city of Schorndor
The Urbach Tower was assembled in a single day
12/27
The Urbach Tower was assembled in a single day
Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes
13/27
Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes
The Urbach Tower is topped with a transparent roof
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The Urbach Tower is topped with a transparent roof
The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
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The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
16/27
The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
The Urbach Tower is finished with a protective facade of larch wood to prevent further warping
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The Urbach Tower is finished with a protective facade of larch wood to prevent further warping
Though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture
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Though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture
The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
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The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
The Urbach Tower was assembled in a single day
20/27
The Urbach Tower was assembled in a single day
The Urbach Tower is finished with a protective facade of larch wood to prevent further warping
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The Urbach Tower is finished with a protective facade of larch wood to prevent further warping
The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
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The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
23/27
The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
24/27
The teams says its Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components
The Urbach Tower is made up of a set of CLT panels that were warped through a carefully crafted drying process
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The Urbach Tower is made up of a set of CLT panels that were warped through a carefully crafted drying process
Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes
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Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes
The Urbach Tower was assembled in a single day
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The Urbach Tower was assembled in a single day

Moisture is usually bad news for timber, at least if you plan to use it for building purposes. This is largely because it can cause the material to crack and warp as it dries out, features hardly conducive to the idea of structural integrity. But one group of researchers in Germany is investigating how this process can actually be harnessed for more efficient construction, manifesting in a magnificent tower made up of timber pieces that twisted themselves into shape.

Generally speaking, part of preparing timber for construction involves ridding it of moisture by drying it out in a kiln, or a machine with similar heating capabilities. This causes it to deform, but ultimately stabilizes it and makes it suitable for use. Researchers at the University of Stuttgart's Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can interfere in this process to "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes, just like you might program a robot to perform particular movements.

"By carefully understanding and digitally modeling the deformations that occur in the drying process we can arrange the wood before drying to produce specific deformations," team member and doctoral candidate Dylan Wood explains to New Atlas. "More specifically, we build flat wood bilayers plates (two layers with opposing grain directions) while the wood still has a relatively high moisture content. The plates are dried using industrial drying processes and they emerge curved. The species of wood, grain orientations, thickness ratios, and the change in moisture during the drying process are all parameters that affect the curvature."

Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes
Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction are exploring how they can "program" the wood so that it transforms into desired shapes

The team says its so-called Urbach Tower is the first structure in the world to use self-shaped building-scale components. To begin, the bilayers were produced to contain 22 percent wood moisture content and were then dried to 12 percent, which Wood says is standard for this type of construction. Once dried and curved, the bilayers were stacked and glued together to lock their curvatures in place.

The Urbach Tower is made up of a set of CLT panels that were warped through a carefully crafted drying process
The Urbach Tower is made up of a set of CLT panels that were warped through a carefully crafted drying process

These warped Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) components were then transported by truck to a site at Remstal Gartenschau 2019, a garden show in the German city of Schorndorf. Here, a team of four craftsmen assembled the pieces into a striking 14-meter-tall (45-ft) tower in a single day, topping it off with a transparent roof. The tower was then finished with a protective facade of larch wood, and is also equipped with sensors that will track moisture content over the coming decade to try and keep tabs on any further warping.

"The elegant part here is that we don't need to add water as wood cut starts with a high moisture content, so in a way we are just strategically intervening in the drying process to use the shrinking forces rather than fighting them," says Wood.

The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall

Though Wood and his colleagues used spruce wood boards sourced from Switzerland, he says that this process can theoretically be applied to any species of wood, as it all shrinks and swells. And though the Urbach Tower certainly makes for an impressive spectacle, the hope is that it acts as a proof-of-concept for a form of self-shaping architecture that can make wood a more appealing material for different kinds of projects.

Not only is wood more sustainable than concrete or steel, contorting it into desired shapes through this method negates the need for energy-intensive mechanical forming that involves serious machinery, as the material itself does the heavy lifting. This also brings down the cost, and could make these kinds of curved CLT pieces viable options for load-bearing components in walls and long roof structures, for example. And according to Wood, the technology could even extend beyond the world of construction.

The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall
The Urbach Tower stands 14 meters tall

"Our research group at ICD is also studying similar self-shaping methods using wood and new materials combined with 3D printing where we can tune the shapes and speed for smaller parts with more complex movements," says Wood. "These parts have a range of applications, from building facades and roofs that open and close autonomously with the weather to clothing that vents when you sweat and seal when you are cold."

Source: University of Stuttgart

5 comments
vince
This is seriously cool work. Kudo's for those who researched it. Puts to shame the research I did in the 60's on creation of OSB boards and sheets.
MarkHughes4096
This result is very similar to what was accidentally achieved at a church local to me. It's a local landmark called the Crooked Spire, You can see a very similar twist as the pictures in this article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St_Mary_and_All_Saints,_Chesterfield
Captain Danger
Pie in the Sky. There is no way that this will lower building costs. Engineering and extra labour costs to deal with non straight pieces would add so much to the construction cost that it would not be feasible for normal construction purposes.
jerryd
As someone that does such things with wood, it is cool, doable but at high cost, lots of time, equipment, labor vs just building it in the finished shape. Also if not careful, seal well, it could rip the structure apart going through damp, dry cycles. Best is get the wood to normal moisture levels before you build it, built it in the shape you want then seal it well so it doesn't change moisture levels. This also prevents 'dry' rot allowing a structure to live 100+ yrs. I bend, torqued ply, from 2 32'x6' sheets of plywood into a round bilged boat hull in just 10manhrs. According to experts the 100+ I've done are not there. Wood, especially laminated as ply, etc is one of the lightest, strongest materials. But rarely is it needed in sizes thicker the 1", 25mm. So let's stop wasting so much with better design, engineering. And get to thin skinned foam, etc core instead of 3-4" thick wood walls.
EZ
I though they quit making building out of wood about 150 years ago for a good reason--it burns! Really good.