UBC Graduate Research

A Generalizable Gridshell Ziraknejad, Bahar


In today’s world, technological advancements in design tools, digital fabrication processes, and wood - as a sustainable and flexible material - pose several questions and cause debate amongst architects, engineers, and fabricators. The debates are not limited to customization vs standardization and serial manufacturing, interdisciplinary approaches vs disconnected disciplinary domains of professions, or a minimalist build form vs a free-form composed of an aggregation of components. For the last decade, there has been a renewed interest in wood construction across the architectural, engineering and construction disciplines. Architects, engineers and fabricators are exploring new ways of using wood by utilizing the recent advancements in digital design and fabrication. This thesis investigated the cases where the separation between design and fabrication led to structures or forms that were not informed by the material. When architects focus on form-finding alone, especially in complex structures such as double-curved surfaces, we experience situations where the form is imposed on the material. This method requires special equipment such as molds, clamping, lamination, and specialized digital knowledge in design and fabrication to bring the form to realization. Recently, there have been attempts to create a multidisciplinary environment that demands the integration of design and fabrication processes. In this integrated method, the designer knows the limit and potential of both the material and the fabrication tools. In this method, the designer is in charge of fabrication, leading to unity between form and material. The form is informed by the material and not imposed on it. This leads to innovation in design because the design is not only informed by the site constraints, but also by the potential and the constraints of the material and the fabrication tools. Advancements in engineered wood and digital fabrication have enabled architects to combine material, parametric design and robotic fabrication knowledge into one architectural software leading to a robust design-to-fabrication workflow. This integration demands a cultural shift to an interdisciplinary environment and a framework to support that concept. Within this integrated design-to-fabrication environment, the architect interacts with the machine directly by programming an industrial robot for an architectural task, resulting in the integration of engineering and fabrication knowledge into architectural software. Thus, the lines are blurred between architect, engineer and fabricator. This also creates a short-cut in traditional construction drawings, which leads to efficiency, economic benefits, and streamlining of fabrication processes by eliminating traditional plan drawings. Therefore, there is no loss of information that flows from designer to fabricator. The design thinking and the architect’s role have changed through a deep knowledge of tectonics and fabrication processes. One designs differently - in terms of wood - when one knows how things go together. A designer is in charge of tectonics. Thus, the architect also becomes a fabricator. A joint system describes not only how forces are transferred to the ground, but also provides ornamentation in our contemporary building forms. This changes the language of architecture because now the connections define the structure and expression at the same time. When we think parametrically, the design is not one joint; it is a series of joints responding to various conditions. In the past, wood was a weak material (compared to steel and concrete), but engineered wood has changed this situation. Engineered wood is strong, and consequently, wood is now more suitable as a structural material. A double-curved surface shifts our vision from hierarchical structures where there is a distinction between roofs and columns. The form becomes one continuous surface. Wooden double-curved surfaces allow a weak but sustainable material to become stronger while producing lightweight structures with long spans, leading to a new typology in architecture. This thesis reflects my interest in engineered wood as a sustainable material, tectonics, connections, and double-curved surfaces. It explores a generalizable system for creating a gridshell structure robust enough to be the size of a full-scale building, and is applicable to flat, single-curved, or double-curved surfaces. Through the study of different joint systems and gridshells, this thesis proposes a new joint system. An open-source system (a script) is developed to automate the design and fabrication of this generalizable gridshell. This system encapsulates the above integration knowledge and makes complex structures readily available to architects. This thesis is not about an architectural proposal or an instantiation of a system. Therefore, the proposed system is not about a form-finding exercise for a particular site. This system fulfills four requirements: distribution of loads, planarity, continuity, and modularity. This system only utilizes ready-made planar wood, a 7-axis industrial robot, and does not use any formwork for bending the material. It enables architects to easily design and build double-curved surfaces. Therefore, it increases access to complex lightweight structures, material-informed forms, and affordable and faster fabrication processes through an integrated design-to-fabrication environment which by definition is an interdisciplinary design process.

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