Dave Pigram, University of Technology Sydney

Iain [Max] Maxwell, University of Canberra

SuperSuccah is a lightweight, elastically curved and twisted plywood pavilion that evidences a fabrication-aware approach to the design of topologically complex architectural forms. In establishing creative feedback relationships between algorithmic design strategies, material testing and prototyping, the pavilion exemplifies how the known constraints of a designated fabrication process can serve as a productive basis for the innovation of architectural form.

SuperSuccah demonstrates increasingly complex speculation of the architectural object as a differentiated field-condition that constantly shifts its character depending on the relative motion of the inhabitant and the weather.  Rapid shifts in strip alignment ensure that at any time the observer will be presented with both extremely transparent (4mm on edge) and entirely opaque aspects.  The strong twisting of each element presents surfaces of all angles to register, reflect and redirect the sun, wind and rain such that small changes in the external environment trigger amplified effects in the micro-climate within.

The design comprises six prefabricated shells that harness mirror- and rotational-symmetry to resolve the complex overall geometric expression. The use of symmetry delivered significant benefits across multiple project demands spanning fabrication, transportation and most importantly structural analysis. Together, these ensured that the complex formal ambitions of the work could be balanced against the tight timeline and budget; need to establish a design-for-disassembly logic, and; the extremely demanding engineering requirements of such an unprecedented structure. The most notable being the very high wind-loads resulting from the exposed coastal site.

The project’s complex surfaces are constructed from a matrix of 4mm and 6.5mm twisted and bent plywood ribs. The orientation of the ribs is derived via computation of quasi-asymptotic lines found upon a quad-dominant isothermic minimal-surface (zero-gaussian-curvature). The description and application of asymptotic gridshells has been offered by Pottman (2016), Schling (2018) and others. Like traditional gridshells, highly performative structural shapes that utilise very little material are possible. Unlike traditional gridshells however, asymptotic grids possess further geometric properties relevant to construction: Firstly, asymptotic lines give rise to normal constant strips that are entirely developable and therefore easily produced using standard sheet material and 3-axis CNC technologies; secondly, these strips unroll parallel offering part nesting efficiency; finally, the resulting lattice of strip elements all meet perpendicular to one another ensuring a friction-fit joint capable of serial assembly.

SuperSuccah was commissioned by Shalom for ‘Succah by the Sea’ as part of ’Sculpture by the Sea’, 2019 in Sydney.  TTW engineers provided structural and wind engineering.  Fabrication facilities were provided by the University of Technology, Sydney.


Dave Pigram_ is a computational design and robotic fabrication researcher and co-director of the architecture practice supermanoeuvre. He holds a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University in New York.

Iain [Max] Maxwell_ is a registered Architect, design researcher and educator and co-director of the architecture practice supermanoeuvre. He holds a Masters in Architecture from the Architectural Association, School of Architecture in London.

Image: Photo by Hamish McIntosh, Courtesy of Office Feuerman.