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New Ways of Naturally Bending Wood Are All About Curve Appeal – Redshift

Bending wood typically requires heavy machinery and huge amounts of energy, but scientists are refining natural ways to guide wood to shape itself.

The Urbach Tower in southwest Germany was built using “self-shaping” wood. This unique structure was created as part of a horticultural show. Courtesy of ICD/ITKE, University of Stuttgart.
The Urbach Tower in southwest Germany was built using “self-shaping” wood. This unique structure was created as part of a horticultural show. Courtesy of ICD/ITKE, University of Stuttgart.

by Friederike Voigt

It normally takes an enormous amount of energy and heavy machinery to shape wood. Now, scientists have discovered a way of bending wood naturally: using digital tools that precisely define the shape in advance. This gives architects completely new, more sustainable outlooks for the future.

The Urbach Tower is situated on a small hill, surrounded by fields and vineyards in southwest Germany. Built as part of a horticultural show in 2019, the distinctive structure is a local landmark. The tower is also a manifesto for the future of architecture. Its curved wood facade is a paradigm shift in timber manufacturing. Instead of using elaborate wood-bending processes, the designers relied on natural forces to trigger the wood to more sustainably twist itself into shape with material programming.

The tower is the brainchild of two experts in the field: Dylan Wood, who leads the material-programming research team from the Institute for Computational Design and Construction (ICD) at the University of Stuttgart, and Markus Rüggeberg, from the Cellulose and Wood Materials Laboratory at Switzerland’s EMPA research institute, which created several wood projects as part of the innovative NEST building experiment in Zurich.

“Timber is a very sustainable material,” Wood says. “And it’s even more effective when it’s curved rather than straight.” Thanks to material programming, researchers have ensured wood can be made further attractive as a sustainable solution.

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