Sculptform Showroom in Melbourne Shows Off Innovative Timber Cladding System

Wood is one of humanity’s oldest building materials, with a reputation for making our built environments feel more connected to nature. But it’s also the material of the future, especially in the face of advancing climate change. New technologies and innovations are transforming this age-old traditional material for exciting new forms and purposes while keeping it sustainable, renewable and biodegradable. That means the warmth, richness and environmental friendliness of wood can shape-shift into the most unexpected things. Mass timber is enabling the construction of wooden skyscrapers of unprecedented heights, and wood is even being used as the basis for clothing fibers and car parts.

A new showroom for Sculptform shows off one of the best contemporary combos that currently exist: modular wood components and computer-aided design. Sculptform makes curved timber battens that integrate into a click-on system for incredibly fast installation, moulded in their Australian factory and shaped with either kerfing or steam bending. Steam-bending is a traditional technique using heat and moisture to form wood to a desired shape without resistance, which holds in place as it cools. Kerfing makes small cuts in the back of the timber batten so it fan flex around a substructure to create forms or curves.

Both processes enable the design of spectacularly complex interior spaces where wood seems to flex, pool and undulate in shapes that were once unachievable. Perhaps a master sculptor could carve raw wood into these amazing configurations, but it would certainly take a lot longer than Sculptform’s system, which uses patented clip connections and mounting tracks to complete large commercial installations.

All of this is on display at Sculptform’s Melbourne showroom, designed by architecture studio Woods Bagot. Doubling as workspace, meeting space and collaboration space for staff, the facility applies the company’s bent timbers to virtually every surface in sight, including walls, ceilings, banisters, railings, bulkheads and tunnel-like pathways.

“Sculptform’s name inspired the design team to explore a concept for sequencing these spaces that was both immersive and sculptural,” explained Woods Bagot. “What visitors experience in the showroom is a physical and tactile connection to Sculptform’s products, processes and their makers – something that can’t be found online.”

When Timber Goes High Tech: Sculptural Free Form Framing

Free Form Cambridge Mosque

We’ll always love rustic, old world timber frame structures more than anything else. But isn’t it cool to see all the design possibilities that the computer age continues to open up for architecture? One great example is “Free Form,” a new collection of supporting frameworks and shell structures by Blumer Lehman. Amazingly complex, these structures are designed using parametric planning and 3D computer modeling, resulting in creative organic and mathematical shapes. 

Engineered for structural soundness, “Free Form” is a unique conjunction of timber frame architecture and technology that aims to redefine the limits of what can be achieved with wood. 

Freeform Swatch Headquarters interior

“Modern timber construction starts in a virtual space, where a 3D digital model, also known as a parametric model, enables different versions of highly complex construction projects to be digitally programmed and tested. Creativity has almost no limits here. Thanks to parametric planning and programming, we can successfully harmonize even the most unusual forms, functions and constructions and produce these on our systems at competitive prices.”

“Complex timber constructions are an engineering challenge faced daily at Blumer Lehmann, and one we’re ideally equipped for. Depending on project requirements, we’ll find the right machine at our production facility. The five-axle CNC trimming line, for example, is the centrepiece of our Free Form timber production, enabling even the most complex components to be processed.”

free form knies kinderzoo

Examples of structures that have been built using Free Form include the cantilever pavilion roof of a tent-like pavilion at the center of the Knies Kinderzoo zoological gardens in Switzerland and an organically shaped three-dimensional facade for the new Swatch headquarters.

Freeform Swatch Headquarters

The Cambridge Mosque is another gorgeous example, located in Cambridge, England, pictured top.

“The timber construction becomes clearly apparent in the entrance area, where the first of the thirty timber columns can be seen as they soar upwards like trees, merging with the lattice-like ceiling structure to form a vast tracery of timber. In addition to a prayer hall with a ceiling height of 8.5 m that can accommodate around 1,000 worshippers, the building includes a café and two apartments.”

Augmented Reality Will Soon Play a Bigger Role in Construction

Augmented reality (AR) is finding a place in many industries as the technology advances, and soon, it will be implemented in all sorts of aspects of construction. If you’re not familiar, AR is an interactive experience in which computer-generated information and graphics are superimposed over the real-world environment, usually using special glasses or headsets. Other ways it’s used include enhanced navigation systems that superimpose a route over your view of the road, apps that let you see how furniture will look in your home and digital models of human organs to guide surgeons through complex operations.

The Woodworking Network recently published a list of 5 ways AR will help make construction faster, safer and more efficient, and frankly, it’s pretty exciting. 

The first is project planning. Where you might once have relied on design sketches and your imagination, now you can view a virtual model of the project and make changes to it in real time, like adjusting certain things to the client’s satisfaction. Augmented reality will come in handy for measuring, too, using digital rulers to take measurements in seconds, which can help reduce inaccuracies that arise from human error.

The ability to interact with a building before it’s completed is another big one. For instance, it’s rarely particularly helpful to have an interior designer come onto an active work site and view a partially completed building in order to visualize how it should be decorated. Augmented reality, however, lets them see the full picture by viewing a digital finished version the site through a smartphone or tablet.

Augmented reality can be a big help in bringing teams together, too. Let’s say you have one person on site who needs help from someone located far away. An AR headset lets the remote employee see through the other employee’s eyes and display helpful information in their field of view.

Check out the whole piece at the Woodworking Network.

Image via BDC

Traditional Woodworking Goes High-Tech with Software & CNC Routers

Woodworker Norman Pease, who began his career in 1985 and founded his Pennsylvania custom millwork company in 2002, is taking his business into the 21st century. While the finely detailed works he produces will still be born of his own imagination and creativity, a new process of actually carving them will take a lot of strain off his hands (literally).

Pease has always carved the impressive works he creates for Three Gryphons Carving Studio the traditional way, with hand tools like chisels. Serving designers, architects and cabinetmakers, the woodworker recently switched to a three-axis ShopSabre CNC router with a 4 x 8 foot cutting table to keep up with all the requests he was getting for custom relief work, turning and engraving.

“At this stage, I actually had too much demand for the amount of time available, so I was turning away work”, he told Woodworking Network. “I was new to CNC machining and I started from nothing. I didn’t know how to draw on a computer, I didn’t know how to use CAD, I never ran a CNC router before and the machine had to hit the ground running in terms of making money straight away.”

“As I had never used any other CAD/CAM software, I spoke to a lot of people about different software programs to drive the router and EnRoute was the name that kept popping up,” he said. “Those recommendations from other EnRoute users, and a price point a couple of thousand dollars less than some solutions from other competitors made it seem like a sensible option.”

The software even lets him ensure that the final works won’t be “too perfect,” lacking the little details that add personality and a human touch. A feature called “distort toolpaths” gives the carving a rugged look. What used to take a week to finish can now be done in as little as five hours, and while the machine is running, Pease can work on other projects.

Looking at the woodworker’s portfolio of past creations on Facebook, it’s clear that he’s always been skilled enough to produce finely wrought detail, so the use of these tools hasn’t markedly changed the character of his work. Some people may mourn what the adoption of CNC routers and CAD could mean for skilled woodworking in the future, and that’s a legitimate concern. But it’s nice to know that they’ll allow woodworkers like Pease to boost production and hopefully make more money, too.

Wood Based Car Parts? Canada Moves Forward With This Innovation

Outside of subtle luxury trim and wacky wooden art cars like Toyota’s Setsuna concept, it isn’t exactly common to see wood in vehicles these days. That could change soon as a result of some innovation coming out of Canada, as Toronto-based GreenNano Technologies works on a new lightweight wood-fiber based composite material. But if you’re hoping for beautiful visible wood grain, you’re better off buying an old wood-paneled station wagon, because these parts are made to go under the hood.

The Canadian government recently granted GreenNano Technologies $1.2 million CAD through the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program to scale up its production. The project combines wood pulp with polymers to create a strong thermoplastic. According to the officials, the material has some advantages over other thermoplastics because it’s more uniform, and it could have all kinds of applications beyond vehicles, like aerospace parts, pharmaceuticals, solar panels and cosmetics.

GreenNano’s current wood-thermoplastic car parts include a cam cover, an oil pan and engine “beauty shields” and covers. They also show off how the new material can be utilized in 3D printers to create complex objects. Another Canadian bioplastic company, Advanced BioCarbon 3D, also developed a wood-based material for a similar purpose.

“Using forest products in the automotive sector is a great example of the high-tech future of forestry. Companies like GreenNano Technologies are creating good jobs and finding new markets for Canadian wood,” said Seamus O’Regan, minister of Natural Resources in a press release.

It’s an interesting concept that could potentially make use of waste wood produced as a by-product of the wood products industry. Other uses for these waste materials include paper products, biomass fuel and even wood floors embedded with wood pulp nano fibers that generate electricity when you step on them. Who said wood isn’t high tech?

Sustainable Wood is the Material of the Future


Not so long ago, the idea of a skyscraper or a car made almost entirely out of wood might have sounded a bit ridiculous. Yet new record-breaking tall timber architectural projects are underway around the world, and engineers in Japan are working on a working wooden concept car that will debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Meanwhile, scientists are developing a host of wood-based wonder materials.

We now have wood that’s made bulletproof and fireproof through densification. The University of Stuttgart put wood through a fairly simple process of lignin removal and compression for a water-resistant result that’s also capable of passively shedding heat, reflecting sunlight and warmth to naturally lower the temperature of a building’s interiors. Wood-based plastics could make it possible to enjoy all of the benefits of plastic without the environmental harm. Wood can even be used for 3D printing, or transformed into a totally transparent alternative to glass.

wood glass

All of this is just the beginning. Thanks to recent advancements in engineered wood, we’ll likely see even more innovation making use of this treasured resource in the near future. But that doesn’t mean we should be worried about the fate of our forests. As long as the wood is sustainably grown and harvested in well-managed forests, rising demand for wood products is actually a good thing because it encourages landowners to devote large tracts of acreage to timber production instead of clear-cutting forests for other business ventures, like real estate.

Responsible logging practices make sure forests managed for production of wood products contribute to healthy ecosystems while maintaining a steady supply. That translates to more (preferably mixed-species) forests that can function as wildlife habitat, recreation lands and – crucially – carbon sinks in between harvest cycles.

Check out some of the super-tall wooden structures currently under construction, including an entire “wooden skyscraper city” in Sweden, a timber high-rise in Toronto and the world’s tallest skyscraper planned for Tokyo in our architecture category.