Architect Magazine honors University of Virginia School of Architecture team with a 2022 R+D Award for Tangential Timber: Non-linear Wood Masonry; juror says research's significance is in how it rethinks 'use of an age-old material in completely new ways'

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia , September 1, 2022 (press release) –

WITH EXCERPTS FROM ARCHITECT MAGAZINE'S FEATURE BY MURRAYE BERNARD [click here to read the Aug. 18 Architect Magazine article]

Assistant Professors Kyle Schumann and Katie MacDonald and a team of students were recently recognized by Architect Magazine with a 2022 (16th Annual) R+D Award for "Tangential Timber: Non-linear Wood Masonry,” an applied research project that proposes a construction application for non-linear wood through the development of a digital fabrication workflow that converts cross sections of logs, called “cookies,” into interlocking, structural blocks that can be disassembled and reused.

Juror Doris Sung, AIA, Principal of DO|SU Studio Architecture and associate professor at the University of Southern California noted, "Although this research is still in its early stages, its significance is in how it rethinks the use of an age-old material in completely new ways."


courtesy After Architecture

Timber is typically deemed useful when it is linear with a regular cross section, but that doesn’t mean that logs that are curved, irregular, or otherwise unfit for lumber can’t serve a purpose. Schumann and MacDonald, AIA, co-founders of the newly Charlottesville-based After Architecture studio—along with a team from UVA School of Architecture led by student project manager Abigail Hassell, have sought to demonstrate a structural application for irregular waste, a resource that is globally available but underutilized in construction. According to the team, more than 55% of harvested timber is deemed unusable in construction due to irregularities, including trees razed from construction sites or damaged by disease or weather. This waste is typically shredded for chips or pulp, or simply discarded.

The team developed a low-tech, parametric digital imaging workflow to photograph and trace the cookies in 2D and then translate them into 3D models. Cookies are not cut in a fixed size, but rather logs in a range of diameters can be used, and the parametric model is able to adapt the vault design to cookies of any shape or size. The thickness of cookies was standardized—3, 4, and 5 inches—for ease of translation into the digital model and for fabrication.


courtesy After Architecture

The digital cookies can then be sorted across a designed form and inscribed with a set of joints. Fabrication requires minimal part reduction with a five-axis waterjet, and CNC routing adds surface continuity across a patchwork of irregular structural blocks. The blocks are joined without binders or hardware, allowing for easy assembly, disassembly, and reuse. The system can be utilized on a wide range of large-scale architectural uses, including structural walls and vaults, as well as nonstructural and decorative uses.

This project began in Schumann’s undergraduate spring 2021 architecture studio. Students Hassell, Audrey Lewis, Jacob McLaughlin, Rohan Singh, and Abbie Weissman developed the computational workflow and constructed a small-scale assembly at the UVA Morven Farm’s formal gardens.

The project team will build a physical prototype installation demonstrating these innovative material and construction strategies while working in collaboration UVA Sawmilling and UVA Facilities Management to acquire felled logs and existing timber waste from on-grounds projects.

Sung further commented on the project's research impact: "Working with the properties of organic material, taking advantage of what normally is considered by-product waste, and incorporating newer computational fabrication methods, this research challenges our standard pursuit of ‘lightness’ and heavy timber construction.” 


courtesy After Architecture

For the 16th Annual R+D Awards, jury and editorial staff alike were astounded by the diversity of solutions and innovations offered by the 2022 award winners, from digital sustainability tools to re-envisioning the age-old materials of wood, glass, and terra cotta. From dozens of entries, jurors Avideh Haghighi, AIA, Kat Schneider, and Doris Sung, AIA, chose six winners that are shaping the future of design.

Project credits:
Organization: University of Virginia and After Architecture
Principal Investigators: Kyle Schumann (Assistant Professor, University of Virginia / Cofounder, After Architecture), Katie MacDonald AIA (Assistant Professor, University of Virginia / Cofounder, After Architecture), Abby Hassell (BSArch '22 University of Virginia)
Wall Prototype Students: Abby Hassell, Audrey Lewis, Jacob McLaughlin, Rohan Singh, Abbie Weissman (developed in ARCH 3021: Design Thinking Studio II: Material Cybernetics, taught by Kyle Schumann in spring 2021)
Vault Research Assistants: Sonja Bergquist, Sophie Depret-Guillaume, Cecily Farrell, Alex Hall, Caleb Hassell, Dillon Mcdowell, Russell Petro, Emily Ploppert, Yianni Spears, Jolie Talha, Annabelle Woodcock.
Funding: UVA Jefferson Trust Flash Funding Grant; UVA Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation Faculty Global Research with Undergraduates (FGRU) Grant; UVA School of Architecture Office of the Dean.

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