Parametrics to Drive Mass Timber Boom in Low-Tech Construction?

New research from the Hong Kong University andTaiwanese-based National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University has outlined how timber can help drive a construction boom across the Global South

Mon 05 Feb 24


Hong Kong and Taiwanese scientists have invented a new mass timber construction system, reducing the cost of glue-laminated timber and improving timber uptake in low-tech construction environments.

Showcased by Hong Kong University’s Building Simplexity Laboratory (BSL), the scientists used parametric engineering software to optimise the number of catenary beams and spaces, reducing the number of (expensive) bespoke joints needed to bind timbers together.

In effect, it offers a sustainable alternative to traditional straight beam structures “by simplifying its fabrication process and algorithmically reducing the number of required costly hardware setups.”

To achieve this, the researchers developed a new algorithm for non-standard and lightweight catenary wood structures before showcasing findings in the KATENARA Pavilion, a prototype constructed in three hours and displayed in the city centre.

According to Professor Kristof Crolla, Founding Director of BSL, it is “the first known example of an optimised suspended glulam roof structures for low-tech timber construction contexts.”

Professor Crolla headed a research team that includes researchers from the University of Hong Kong and Taiwanese-based National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (NYCU).

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In December, Wood Central reported that developers were now turning to bio-based materials to develop infrastructure across the Global South, including the Prohabotic Tower in Egypt, which last year secured the World Architecture Festival “Future Building of the Year.” (Photo Credit: World Architecture Festival).

Unlike high-tech construction, low-tech or simple construction uses local and preferably natural materials that are easily repairable and recyclable – often used in the Global South to drive future infrastructure projects.

“Laying the foundation for more inventive building designs, particularly in developing construction contexts where cost-effective and sustainable solutions are vital,” Professor Crolla said.

Urban expansion in the Global South will boom over the next two decades, with the footprint of cities expected to increase by 141% compared to a 34% increase in high-income countries – and with this, cost and time constraints will be crucial.

According to Professor Crolla, the algorithms allowed for the pre-fabrication of all curved glulam elements using a single jig, reducing cost and speeding up the delivery of the prototype to the site. Before adding that, steel connectors connected the glulam roof, floor and suspended beams.

About the KATENARA Pavillion

The Pavilion features a double-curved wooden roof surface composed of two glulam ring beams and ten near-catenary-shaped glulam beams anchored by tension cables. It highlights the development of advanced computational methods to reduce construction complexity while emphasising the use of timber as a sustainable, low-carbon construction material.

Details of ‘KATENARA: Advanced Computational Methods for Low-Tech Timber Construction’ Exhibition:

Exhibition Period: 19 January 2024 to 16 February 2024

Opening Hours: 11:00 am until 8:00 pm

Venue: H310, 3/F, BLK B, PMQ, Central



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