Digital Timber

Digital Timber:

Interactive Design Environments for the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly of Complex Spatial Timber Structures


Ryan Hughes, Aarhus School of Architecture

Digital Timber demonstrates the closed-loop design cycle of a recent design-build experiment in the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) of complex timber structures using novel robotic fabrication and augmented-reality-aided assembly processes. The experiment is part of an ongoing research project at the Aarhus School of Architecture in collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architects Computational Design and Arup Engineers.

The premise of the project is that a knowledge and communication gap exists between design teams, digital manufacturers and construction professionals that discourage the uptake of advanced robotic manufacturing and digital assembly techniques in the building industry. Through demonstrators such as the one exhibited, the project aims to demonstrate the potential impact of solutions applied in a practice-based setting and at an industrial scale.

The project focuses specifically on the development of Interactive Design Environments (IDEs) for the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) of spatial timber structures using advanced digital manufacturing and assembly methods. The environments build upon state-of-the-art research in User Experience Design (UXD), Computational Geometry (CG) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enable real-time interactivity and feedback on key DfMA metrics in the early-stage design process of complex structures.

The specific experiment shown focused on the computational design, robotic fabrication and AR-aided assembly of a complex self-supporting timber structure based on the Zollinger reciprocal frame structural principle. Two earlier versions of the experiment had been undertaken in collaboration
with Niels Martin Larsen from Aarhus School of Architecture and Toni Oesterlund from Geometria Architecture. In both cases, the assembly of the precisely manufactured elements proved challenging due to a reliance on traditional construction documentation, inevitably leading to miscommunication, inaccuracies, and ultimately, the painstaking process of iteratively checking the structure against the digital model.

The ambition of the exhibited experiment was to establish a fully digital chain from design and manufacturing through to documentation and assembly - a move toward next-generation construction. The connection between digital manufacturing and assembly was made possible through our partnership with Fologram, the developers of software that connects common CAD packages with the Microsoft HololensTM, permitting the AR-aided construction of complex structures directly from the digital model.

The established workflow was demonstrated as a prototype fabricated as part of the Paramateria digital workshop series in collaboration with Ligas at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development.

Digital Timber


Ryan Hughes_ is a computational designer, robotics specialist and software developer. He is currently undertaking his PhD at the Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark. He is the founder of Axis Consulting and the developer of Axis, a Grasshopper plugin for parametric robot control.

Image: View of the structure, robotically fabricated and assembled using an augmented-reality-aided process.