Generative crossed timber system by University of Virginia School of Architecture student team of recent graduates receives honorable mention in Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards for 2022

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia , September 26, 2022 (press release) –

Generative Crossed Timber System by the UVA School of Architecture student team of recent graduates Ziwei Shen (MLA '21), Yuwen Zhou (MLA '21), and Chris MacDonnell (MArch '22) was honored in Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards for 2022 representing their 'best in student design'.

The Innovation by Design Awards, which can be found in the October 2022 issue of Fast Company, honor the designers and businesses solving the most crucial problems of today and anticipating the pressing issues of tomorrow. 

Their award-winning research creates an open-ended timber system that can form different architectural elements by applying the notion of generative design, the materiality of wood and digital fabrication. A cross referencing method, which includes geometry study, material study, fabrication testing and structure analysis, is developed by this research collective to serve as the driving force of this project. The feedback among each approach provides guidelines for future research and practice. 

The geometry study shapes the form-searching process and provides theoretical support for the unit design by understanding the physical properties of different geometries and connection methods. The material study is conducted on the aspect of material dimension, grain orientation, stiffness and elastic properties. Three key issues come from the fabrication test: 1) the milling speed of the current robotic setup limits the scale of the final structure; 2) the dimension limitation and maximum load of robot affects the form and size of unit; and 3) the accuracy of robotic fabrication and bending behavior of wood during the change of air humidity require more tolerance to be considered during unit design process. The final design is also guided by the feedback of structure analysis, which centers around the construct's structural performance.

The final structure consists of 81 pieces of pine lumber that are only connected by notches of different dimensions. The single size of each piece is 1”x 7”x28“. The column-like structure can be reformed to other architectural elements by rearranging the units, and can be extended to other scales by aggregating the units through open notches.

Generative Crossed Timber System was developed under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Architecture Ehsan Baharlou

Other student winner teams include design work from Umeå Institute of Design, MIT Media Lab, Citizens and Technology Lab at Cornell University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Jefferson University, the Atlas Institute at the University of Colorado, Carnegie Mellon University, the Institute of Design at Illinois Tech, and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

The judges include renowned designers from a variety of disciplines, business leaders from some of the most innovative companies in the world, and Fast Company’s own writers and editors. Entries are judged on the key ingredients of innovation: functionality, originality, beauty, sustainability, user insight, cultural impact, and business impact.

All images © Ziwei Shen (MLA '21), Yuwen Zhou (MLA '21), and Chris MacDonnell (MArch '22) 

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