Parametric Design in Action

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The frontiers of design are often explored in educational facilities, where students and faculty have the freedom to experiment purely for the sake of exploring new ideas and methods of construction. Several innovative examples of parametric design have been produced by university programs, including these: 

Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) and the Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) at the University of Stuttgart: For almost a decade, the skeletal structure of sea urchins has inspired a series of the German university’s wood projects, culminating in the 2019 BUGA Wood Pavilion, which was created using robotic assembly and a fully automated workflow. Two million lines of custom coding were directly exported from the computational design framework to generate the structure. The highly integrative process enabled the design and engineering of 376 unique plate segments with 17,000 different finger joints and used a robotic assembly platform developed specifically for the project.

SCI-Arc: The Southern California Institute of Architecture is known as one of the world’s most innovative independent architecture schools. In 2014, students used parametric methods to create a wood installation for the main entrance using laminar flow principles for the design. The installation consists of 57 hand-cut plywood profiles connected into an internal truss mechanism of 132 disparate pieces, interlocked together, with a total of 6,000 notches; 3,950 linear ft. of hand-cut 1/4×1/4-in. basswood strips were linked directly to the profiles.  

ETH Zurich University: The world’s first two-storey wooden pavilion to be built using robots, the Shingled Timber Pavilion was developed during a digital fabrication course where students explored the potential of robotic fabrication to reduce waste. The university also developed Spatial Timber Assemblies, a construction technique that uses robots to produce modular wood structures. ETH recently announced a new Centre for Augmented Computational Design in Architecture, Engineering and Construction, known as Design++, and earlier this year, ETH Professor Emeritus Anne Lacaton and her partner Jean-​Philippe Vassal received the Pritzker Prize for their social and sustainable architecture; they have never demolished a building, preferring to restore and rehabilitate properties. (Lacaton is only the sixth woman to receive the Pritzker Prize.) 

UBC Centre for Advanced Wood Processing: With courses in robotic timber fabrication and 3D printing with wood (using a wood/polymer composite), this department is part of one of the largest wood science institutions in the world. In 2018, the temporary Wander Wood Pavilion was created in collaboration with professor David Correa (University of Waterloo), using a 3D digital model that was segmented into templates to guide robotic tools. The interlocking wood components were fastened with 2,200 rivets to create the sculptural bench. 

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