Focus Artistic Research

Conceptual Joining - Wood Structures from Detail to Utopia

Project lead: Christoph Kaltenbrunner
Art Sciences and Art Education
Duration: 01.06.2017 - 30.06.2021
Austrian Science Fund (FWF): AR 395 Programm zur Entwicklung und Erschließung der Künste (PEEK)

In the course of industrialization timber construction changed considerably. The traditional crafted joints were widely replaced by metal connectors. The anisotropic structure of wood was considered a disadvantage and therefore various homogenized timber products were developed, largely eliminating characteristic qualities of wood.
We regard it as the better strategy to make use of the material’s natural properties thus capitalizing on nature instead of struggling against it. Besides ecological advantages, wood has a significant artistic potential. Its sensual qualities and structural individuality make each piece unique. It is a dynamic, almost interactive material that transforms reacting to climatic conditions and in return affects the environment. Its liveliness through an inherent logic creates a tension between designer, material and user.
Various traditional timber constructions such as Japanese joinery took advantage of wood’s natural structure and behavior but today the time consuming and therefore expensive production makes them uneconomical. CAD/CAM and especially parametric modeling now offer a powerful way of re-interpreting traditional woodworking and open up new horizons for furniture and timber architecture. Instead of developing a rather abstract design first (as often practiced) and then searching for the appropriate material for its realization we will take the specific properties of wood as a starting point. We expect this materialoriented design method to produce structural logic, topical cultural expression and a specific aesthetic in the use of wood.
By combining the qualities of traditional craftsmanship with the potential of cutting-edge computational techniques a variety of structural configurations and wood joining methods will be developed and tested. Apart from theoretical research our work will be based primarily on practical experimentation. We will build upon older achievements in woodworking such as lightweight curvature of bent wood (Thonet), structural curved surfaces in bent plywood (Eames) and new material based approaches in avant-garde design (IBOIS laboratory of EPFL Lausanne, ETH Zurich and ICD/ITKE Stuttgart) where wood properties are used to inform parametric models for the design of experimental pavilions. Investigations will include the analysis of material properties on various levels and scales as well as mechanical and chemical joints within frameworks of structural members. Informed by an in depth understanding of material behavior and correlating joining principles we develop design systems, geometries and structures. These could be translucent, textured, bendable, moving, adapting, transforming etc. constructs. From small objects we will proceed to larger-scale structures and usable architectural spaces.
The process will become visible through an interactive “physical blog”. By “posting” experimental results in exhibitions we expose them to the public on a regular basis. At key moments the research work will accumulate in full-scale installations (pavilions) at different locations in Europe and the US.