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.”

Timber Block Tahoe: A Custom Craftsman-Style Luxury Home

Ever dream about designing your own custom dream log home? Traditional log houses can be pretty pricey, but a company called Timber Block is making them more accessible with a factory-built system you can order as a kit. The prefabricated wall panels of Timber Block’s engineered homes are made of Eastern White Pine timber dried to 8% humidity along with high-pressure closed-cell polyurethane insulation for a beautiful, high quality result, and each home comes with everything you need for the framework, exterior walls, roof, ceiling, loft, doors and windows and other components.

A recent project shows off just how amazing these custom-designed log homes can be. The clients chose to alter Timber Block’s Tahoe craftsman model into their very own luxury residence measuring 3600 square feet with three bedrooms, two levels of living space and a 3-car garage. They modified the look of the Tahoe from the outside, giving it a more symmetrical facade.

The panelized home building system makes it easy to alter the shape, size and floor plan of the home. It’s a cool use of Eastern White Pine, which is a standard material for many log and timber frame homes. 

“The wood is then bonded under thousands of pounds of pressure and thru-bolted every 24 inches. The panels are stacked and delivered to the building site and installed using a crane. Timber Block homes are highly energy-efficient, can be built anywhere and assemble in hours.”

Timber Block also offers Classic, Contemporary, Vintage, Farmhouse and Evolution collections of models, so there’s something for just about everyone. What would you build?

Isle of Light: Idyllic Post & Beam Eastern White Pine Cottages on the Maine Coast

Set about 23 miles beyond Port Clyde on the coast of Maine, Wheaton Island is about as peaceful as it gets, with few structures and even fewer residents. In the winter, you’ll find hardly anyone around, but in summer, a series of charming white dwellings come alive with the inspiring creative activities of contemporary artists Bo Bartlett and Betsy Eby, who spend the rest of the year at their full-time residence in Columbus, Georgia. Bartlett bought the island in 1999 after spotting it in the distance while vacationing at the summer home of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth on Benner Island.

Bartlett immediately got to work restoring the island’s turn of the century house, barn and guesthouse with the help of Freeport builder John Libby, and after marrying Betsy in 2010, called Libby back in to build two custom “his and hers” artist studios. 

From Decor Maine:

“The simple, uninsulated post-and-beam structures were adapted from the company’s 18-by-24-foot ‘Harraseeket’ model. North-facing skylights capture the light so crucial to the artists, while double barn doors open to ocean views. ‘We started with that footprint and went with a steeper roof to give it a bit more character,’ explains John. Made of Eastern white pine, the white shingle-sided studios look nearly identical from the outside, while the interiors have been adapted to suit the artists’ varied needs. Bo’s include a loft space and large north-facing windows, Betsy’s an upright piano, which she plays throughout her workday (‘Going back and forth,’ says Bo). The structures were painted white inside and out, down to the furnishings, making plain canvases, as it were, for the colorful work created within them.”

Libby constructed the timber frames at his warehouse in Freeport, then dismantled them and shipped them to the island by barge. It took a helicopter too set them into their permanent places. Each one is painted stark white inside, giving them a purity and simplicity that instantly evokes feelings of calmness and tranquility. It’s also a highly effective backdrop for art. The studios are powered by solar panels and propane.

“My connection with nature is just so piqued out there,” says Eby. “It reminds me of who I am.”

Pine Park Pavilion Highlights a History of Local Resin Production

EWP Pine Park Pavilion exterior

A long, horizontal wooden structure peeks through the woods on a narrow peninsula, its open frame standing out as its defining feature. This public pavilion is both a showcase of prized local pine wood and a tribute to a unique history of pine resin production in the area.

Located in Lishui, China, “Pine Park Pavilion” by DnA Architects is set along a paved connecting path on the Songyin River leading to the village of Huangyu. Its purpose is “a tourism infrastructure that enables cyclists and hikers to experience the region.” Inside is an art installation showing how the pine resin was produced and how it’s used.

EWP Pine Park Pavilion facade
EWP Pine Park Pavilion trees around

“Pine Pavilion is a linear structure spreading out alongside Songyin River dam and facing Xiahuangyu village across a fishpond. Wooden structural panels slice up the building to divide the program, preserve pine trees and create passages from the dam to the fishpond. Pine trees are framed into the space and become the major theme. In fact, the main economical income of Xiahuangyu villagers comes from pine resin production. A sequence of glass panels attached with resin production images is installed into structural frames to introduce this village pine production context. The building itself is a large scale miniature landscape bonsai of this pine forest.”

EWP Pine Park Pavilion
EWP Pine Park Pavilion views

“The elongated pavilion consists of four segments. The building elements are separated with glass surfaces, on which the production of resin is illustrated in an artistically alienated manner, thus giving rise to one picture in combination with the already existing group of trees around the pavilion.”

“The simple wooden building with its clear constructive structure serves as a resting place at the dam on the river and provides information about a traditional method of producing resin. It consequently combines information about the location with a tourism infrastructure that links history and future for visitors in a playful manner.”

EWP Pine Park Pavilion exhibition
EWP Pine Park Pavilion inside

As you can see, the timber frame of the pavilion is constructed differently from the “timber frame” architecture we love here in the United States. But its simple, uncluttered beauty is obvious, enhanced even more by the use of so much glass on the walls and ceilings. It’s essentially a love letter to pine, demonstrating its importance to the local culture, and that’s something we can understand, as well.

Wood Innovation Inspiration: Fractal Geometries in a Timber Frame Chapel

Agri Chapel wooden frame

We love tried and true traditional timber frame designs, but if you’re feeling creative, check this out. Japanese architecture firm Momoeda Yu Architecture Office designed an interior structural system for a chapel that takes inspiration from trees, and the result is stunning.

agri chapel outdoor view

“We tried to connect the activity of the chapel to the natural surroundings seamlessly,” says lead architect You Momoeda of “Agri Chapel.”

Agri Chapel looking up

This is a Japanese-wooden chapel with a fractal structure system. The site is surrounded by a large national park overlooking the sea. We tried to connect the activity of the chapel to the natural surroundings seamlessly. In Nagasaki, there is an oldest wooden gothic chapel in Japan known as “Ohura-Tenshudou”. This chapel is not only a famous tourist point, but a place loved and cared for the townsfolk.”

Agri Chapel ceiling

The architects wanted to create an update to the gothic style for Agri Chapel, altering it to pay tribute to the forested environment. They created a “pendentive dome” shape by piling up tree-like units that gradually grow smaller in scale from the ground level to the ceiling, and used traditional Japanese joinery techniques to assemble them.

Agri Chapel interior at night

This wooden structure supports the 25-ton roof load while also adding incredible sculptural flair to the interior. It makes you wonder what other creative designs might be possible that still perform the job as well as timber frame styles like gambrel, barn, saltbox and raised cape.

Timber Frame in Miniature: Eastern White Pine Sculptures by Ted Lott

ted lott chairs

Artist, designer and craftsman Ted Lott creates beautiful miniature timber frame structures with Eastern White Pine, using found vintage furniture and other objects as unexpected structural bases.

In a 2012 – 2016 series called “Habitation,” Lott built elaborate miniature timber frame houses around antiques like stools, piano benches and rocking chairs, leaving the frames open so viewers can peer inside and take in all of the details. More recently, his sculptures made of Eastern White Pine have taken on cylindrical shapes to function as lamp shades; some spring up between the halves of old suitcases.

habitation 11 habitation 11 2

A graduate of the Maine College of Art with a BFA in Woodworking and Furniture Design and recipient of an MFA from the University of Wisconsin Madison, Lott draws inspiration from the traditional skills and techniques that are at risk of being lost to industrial methods of construction and fabrication. His work revolves around “the history of wood in material culture and architecture,” he explains in his artist statement.

ted lott habitation 2 habitation 10

Along with clothing, food and water, shelter is one of the basic requirements for the sustenance of human life. During most of our history shelters were made of local materials; timber, stone, hide, grass and mud provided protection from the elements. However, with the coming of the industrial revolution, locally sourced materials gave way to industrially produced ones, 2×4’s and nails replaced timbers and elaborate joinery.”

migration 16

Ted Lott Master of FIne Art Exhibition
Ted Lott Master of Fine Art Exhibition

“Today, in America and all over the world, balloon frame construction is a primary means by which shelter is created from wood. While connoisseurs of woodworking have long lauded the skill, precision, and exacting craftsmanship required to create a post and beam structure, the majority of our homes, commercial buildings and other structures are made using the balloon frame method.”