Conference Paper: Peer Reviewed

Simplifying Catenary Wood Structures

by Wong N. and Crolla K.

ABSTRACT | This work-in-progress action research paper describes the development of a novel computation-driven design method for low-tech producible, structurally optimized, suspended wooden roofs based on near catenary-shaped glue-laminated beams. The paper positions itself in a post-digital architectural context with as goal to introduce recent technological advances into developing construction contexts characterized by limited production means. The paper starts by evaluating the pre-existing practical, procedural, and economic drivers behind the design and fabrication of curved glue-laminated beams—one of the most ecologically sustainable structural elements commonly available. 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 vise 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 that operates as demonstrator. The paper concludes by addressing future research directions and architectural advantages that the proposed design and fabrication methodology brings, especially for developing construction contexts with limited access to digital fabrication technology.

KEYWORDS | Post-digital; Catenary; Glulam; Evolutionary Algorithm; Fabrication

CITATION | Wong, Long Hin Nichol and Kristof Crolla, “Simplifying Catenary Wood Structures – Post-Digital Expansion of GluLam’s Construction Solution Space”, ACADIA 19: UBIQUITY AND AUTONOMY, Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), ISBN 978-0-578-59179-7, The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, Austin, Texas 21-26 October, 2019, pp. 150-155.