livMatS biomimetic timber shell: Freiburg University’s replicated sea urchin’s plate skeleton

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The collaborative project between the University of Stuttgart’s Integrative Computational Design and Construction for Architecture (IntCDC) and the University of Freiburg’s Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS) has resulted in the creation of the livMatS Biomimetic Shell. This innovative structure serves as an architectural incubator for cross-disciplinary research ideas and showcases a fully deconstructible and reusable segmented timber shell construction.

The key focus of the Biomimetic Shell is to be highly resource-efficient and distinctive in shape. It achieves this by combining computational design methods, robotic prefabrication, and automated construction processes, as well as integrating new forms of human-machine interaction in timber building. This approach has resulted in a 50% reduction in the building’s environmental life cycle impact compared to traditional timber architecture.

One notable feature of the Biomimetic Shell is its large-scale skylight, known as the ‘Solar Gate’, which incorporates a biomimetic, energy-autonomous, 4D-printed shading system. This skylight provides thermal indoor comfort and is coupled with an activated and recycled concrete floor slab, making the shell suitable for year-round use.

The design of the Biomimetic Shell draws inspiration from the plate skeleton of sea urchins. The segmented and curving body of the shell is generously glazed at its front and back, creating a unique architecture. The structure is formed by combining two partial shells of varying shapes and sizes, allowing for the incorporation of a skylight that fills the space with ample illumination.

Constructed using timber, the shell spans 200 square meters and is composed of 127 different hollow cassettes bound by cross-screwed joints. This construction technique allows for easy disassembly and reusability of the building. It also represents a new approach to resource-efficient and sustainable timber construction. The cassettes are made up of three-layer spruce boards and spruce edge beams, which are assembled as building modules using integrative computational design, robotic fabrication, and automated assembly.

Despite the additional effort required for the load-adapted and geometrically differentiated construction of the cassettes, the use of computational design, robotic fabrication, and automated assembly methods allows for a cost-effective production and assembly process.

The livMatS Biomimetic Shell is an outstanding example of how the integration of innovative technologies and design principles can result in highly resource-efficient and distinctive architectural structures. Its unique combination of computational design, robotic fabrication, and automated construction processes not only reduces environmental impact but also enables easy disassembly and reusability. With its sustainable and visually striking design, the Biomimetic Shell showcases the potential for a more sustainable future in timber construction.

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