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Use of Wood as a Building Material

Wood is quite unique when compared to most building materials used today given that its material makeup is a result of naturally grown biological tissue (ill.18). Thus, the material makeup and structure of wood is significantly different than that of most industrially produced, isotropic materials. Upon close examination, wood can be described as an anisotropic natural fiber composite. In contrast to isotropy, which constitutes identical properties in all directions of a material, anisotropy concerns the property of being directionally dependent. For instance, one can see this in the way that wood can bend easily in the tangential axis (ill.19) which is the direction perpendicular to its grain direction. When examining wood from any given angle, one can identify material characteristics and behaviours specific to that angle, relative to the material’s main grain orientation. That is to say, should one examine the material properties of wood at an angle 45 degrees to the main grain orientation, one will discover properties extremely different than those obtained from an angle 90 degrees to the main grain orientation.
The directionally dependent property of wood is a result of the horizontal or vertical orientation of the individual cells and the arrangements of growth layers in a tree.[1] Throughout architectural history, this inherent heterogeneity of wood as well as its complex material characteristics have often been characterized as deficiencies by architects, engineers and members of the timber industry.[2] This can be traced to the fact that most designs and construction methodologies used today require the use of materials bearing minimal variations in their properties and behaviours in order to satisfy the need for isotropic structures.
In contrast, this thesis views wood’s complex material makeup and its capacities as significant advantages rather than deficiencies. Furthermore, it aims to understand these interesting characteristics of wood and employ them through an informed design process.
In addition to these complex material properties, wood also presents many favorable characteristics including diversity, weight, strength, appearance, workability, cost and availability. Another factor that makes wood a very appealing material today concerns its overall ecological advantages. In light of the environmental challenges that the built environment is facing today, it is becoming increasingly recognized that very few building materials can rival wood’s environmental benefits. Wood is a natural, renewable material that holds a very low level of embodied energy. It is known for its ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by storing CO2 and also by substituting for materials with a high carbon content[3]. In this manner, the use of wood actually produces a positive carbon footprint.[4] Wood is also an extremely energy efficient building material in its production. For example, wood requires 50 times less energy in its manufacturing than steel to ensure a given structural stiffness as a whole.[5]
Unlike many natural resources, forests consist of a renewable resource. With careful forest management, one can ensure that forests thrive and continue to provide the many benefits to which we have become accustomed. Foresters can calculate an ‘allowable cut’ of trees per year for any given forest area that will secure a stable harvest. Tree farming is yet another way of sustainably satisfying today’s demand for wood. Programs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have engineered a breed of super trees that can grow at rapid speeds in order to create a substantial amount of bio mass in a single given acre. These engineered trees are being farmed at tree farms such as the Boardman Tree Farm LLC, and are redefining modern forestry (ill.20). The Boardman Tree Farm plantations are located in eastern Oregon, United States, where dry desert land has been transformed into a thirty thousand acre farm. This plantation currently has seventy million trees and is capable of producing half a million trees every year to satisfy demands. The plantation harvests five acres of trees every day in order to maintain this continuous cycle.[6]
As a result of wood’s naturally-grown origin, its unique material composition accounts for most of its properties and characteristics.[7] The aim of the thesis is to explore some of the potential ways of utilizing the material properties and specific material characteristics of wood in the design field. In order to do so, the heterogeneous structure of wood must first be understood in greater detail.
Wood can be defined as a low-density, cellular, composite material and as such, does not readily fall into a single class of material, but rather overlaps a number of classes. In terms of its high strength performance and affordability, timber remains the world’s most successful fiber composite. On the microscopic scale, one can describe wood as a natural fiber composite.[8] (Ill.21)
Wood cells are comprised of layers, upon which cellulose microfibrils function like fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin and hemicelluloses, reinforcing the assembly as a whole. Due to this makeup at the microscopic level, wood shares a number of properties with materials like: synthetic composites, reinforced plastics, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Similar to wood, these materials are characterized with relatively low stiffness in combination with relatively high structural capacity. In other words, wood contains innate elastic properties especially well-suited for construction methods that seek to employ elasticity in achieving complex lightweight structures from initially planar elements.
What follows is intended as a brief overview of the material composition of wood. Understanding the anatomical aspects of wood is imperative to the research and investigations that have been conducted.
In contrast to building materials that are specifically designed and manufactured to suit the needs of an architect or an engineer, wood is a result of the biological tissue functions that take place in a tree. Although there exists a wide variety of species of trees in the world, all trees, despite their diversity, share certain characteristics. Trees are all vascular and perennial which means they are capable of adding yearly growth to previously grown wood. The growth process of a tree occurs in the cambium, a thin layer of living cells between the bark of the tree and the inner stem structure. (Ill.22) Cambial cells have thin walls and divide themselves lengthwise to grow into two new cells. Following the cell division, one of the two cells enlarges to become another cambial mother cell while the other either matures into a bark cell or forms towards the inside of the cambium to become a new wood cell.
When the primary wood cells reach maturity and develop into their mature size, a secondary wall is constructed from long chain hemicellulose and cellulose molecules. The long chains of cellulose molecules are oriented in a direction parallel to the long axis of the cells and reinforced by lignin (ill.23). Lignin is an integral part of the wood’s cellulous structure because it provides support for the cells. It is also the material that gives rigidity to plants.[9] The distribution and orientation of the cells along with the material structure of the cell walls determine most of the resulting characteristics and properties of wood.[10]
Trees are characterized into two types: softwoods and hardwoods (ill.24). The terms ‘softwood’ and ‘hardwood’ do not signify softness or hardness of wood. The two terminologies are related to the botany of the species and to the way in which a tree grows. The differences between the two types of wood can be seen in the cellular structure of the materials. In the relatively simple cellular structure of softwood, nine tenths of the wood volume consists of one cell type called “tracheid”, while the remainder consist of ray tissues. Tracheids are fiber-like cells and have a length-to-width ratio of 100:1, meaning that they are approximately one hundred times longer than they are wide. The tracheid cells are arranged parallel to the stem axis located in the radial layers of the tree and are responsible for the transport of water and minerals throughout the tree.
In contrast, a much greater variety of cell types and arrangement configurations are present in hardwoods. In addition to tracheids, hardwoods also contain vessels, rays and fiber cells. Vessel elements in hardwood have a large diameter and thin walls, containing no end-to-end walls. As a result, they are arranged in an end-to-end formation that is parallel to the stem axis of the tree, forming continuous channels that carry sap through the tree. Unlike vessels, fiber cells are much smaller in diameter and have thicker cell walls and possess closed tapered ends (ill.25). In both softwood and hardwood, the structure, distribution and orientation of cells are the determining factors of the anisotropic, structural, and hygroscopic characteristics of wood.[11]
The anisotropic and hygroscopic characteristics of wood resulting from its internal cellular structure have traditionally been regarded as problematic in the practices of architecture and structural engineering, especially when compared to more homogeneous, stable, industrially produced isotropic materials like steel, plastic or glass. In design approaches within architecture, engineering and timber industries, knowledge of wood’s material composition and characteristics has mostly been employed to counterbalance its complex material behaviours.[12] For instance, the development of engineered industrial wood products (ex: MDF, or cross-laminated-timber) came as a response to the heterogeneous composition of wood. These wood products are capable of producing a material that is much more homogenous and which provides isotropic material characteristics.
Unfortunately, the design opportunities that could be made possible using the innate heterogeneous characteristics of wood are too often overlooked in today’s construction projects. In fact, particularly in North America, the construction material of wood is often no longer referred to as such. Instead, wood is referred to as a dimensional building element, such as a ‘2×4’. The aim of this research is to propose an alternative approach to design which views wood’s complex material composition and related behaviours as advantageous rather than problematic. Such an integrated design approach can perhaps contribute towards a renewed appreciation for the behavioral capacities of wood and the rich design opportunities that can be realized thanks to the natural anatomy of this material.
Three-ply plywood and veneer are unmistakably industrially-produced materials. However, unlike other industrially-produced materials such as steel, glass, plastic, MDF or particle board, three-ply plywood and veneer are anisotropic materials. This signifies that the properties and behaviours of these materials vary significantly in relation to the fiber direction. For example, veneer and plywood encounter considerable differences in stiffness depending on the grain direction. The compressive strength of wood differs significantly depending on grain direction, as do most of its other mechanical and material properties. The following section details the manufacturing process of veneer and plywood in order to better understand the material exploration that will be presented in Chapter 3.
Plywood may appear to be a relatively new industrially-produced wood product, however its concept is in fact very old and can be traced back to more than 5,000 years. Before the word “plywood” was invented in the 1920s, the process was referred to as veneering. One of the earliest traces of plywood was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun, an Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled around the year 1334 BC. The discovered pieces of plywood were remains of coffins made of six layers of wood, each 4mm thick and held together by glue and wooden pegs.[13] The plywood remains were fabricated using the same fundamental techniques as today. Like modern plywood, the grains of the layers where arranged perpendicularly with each layer for strength[14] (ill.26). From this period onwards, veneering techniques became increasingly widespread throughout the world. Thanks to the development of tools and technology over the years, veneer thicknesses were reduced and new adhesives (ex: glue made from bone, sinew and cartilage) were used to bond the layers together with heat.[15]
Although plywood is made much in the same way today, modernized adhesion techniques and tools used in its production have improved significantly, making it one of the most affordable and easily-produced building materials. Both hardwoods and softwoods are used in the production of plywood. The typical sequence of operation involved in the production of plywood is as follows:
There exists a long standing discourse on the subject of sheet materials in architecture, in part because these are so ubiquitous in conventional construction. Expanding the understanding of these materials is valuable to the architectural profession, as it allows one to discover new potentials concerning materials which are already familiar. Being a sheet material, plywood thus offers many advantages as a subject of research and experimentation. Like other sheet materials, it can facilitate the creation of complex geometry using initially planar elements. Three-ply plywood is the material of choice for this thesis due to its ability to offer high amounts of flexibility in one direction, without compromising its strength. Three-ply plywood, as previously described, is made up of odd layers, two of which are oriented in one direction, while the center layer lies perpendicularly to the outer layers. Thus, due to the predominant fiber direction present in the two outer layers, three-ply plywood possesses a natural tendency to bend perpendicularly to this grain direction. The core of the assembly, otherwise known as the center layer, provides strength to the assembly by offering resistance to the predominant fiber direction. As a result, the plywood assembly is less likely to break or snap when being bent because it is reinforced by one interior sheet containing fibers running perpendicular to the outer layers.
Knowledge of the manufacturing process for plywood is important for this research because it provides an introduction to lamination techniques that can be further utilized in the material investigations and implementations that will follow. The process described above elaborates on the procedure involved in the mass-produced manufacturing of flat plywood sheets used in the building industry. However, the process of lamination need not strictly apply to planar surfaces, but also to the development of three-dimensional forms.
[1] J. M. Dinwoodie, Timber: Its Nature and Behaviour (London: E

Deconstruction Theory in Architecture

“Architecture is understood as a representation of deconstruction, the material representation of an abstract idea”.[1] Architecture is the art of space: its visual form, its dimensions and scale, the quality of its light- all of these qualities depend on our perception of the spatial boundaries defined by elements of form. As space begins to be captured, enclosed, molded and organized by the elements of mass, architecture comes into being.[2]
In 1995, the Victoria and Albert Museum has announced plans for an expansion of their exhibition spaces. After a massive competition, the design that featured a six-story structure dubbed “The Spiral” by an architect, Daniel Libeskind has chosen by the museum. But the Victoria and Albert Museum has discarded the plan for the expansion, because of the harsh criticism from the press and scholars, as well as lack of funding. When the Victoria and Albert Museum declined the deconstruction style, other museums around the world have come to grasp it.[3] I have found that buildings and museums which with the existence of Deconstructivism both as development and completely new architectures. In this paper, I focus my studies on how philosophical theory of Deconstruction by Jacques Derrida applies to architecture design, specifically in museum settings. I have focused how deconstructivism theory has entered into the realm of architecture as well. Within this paper, I demonstrated how the style of deconstructivism works within a defined and systematic space for exhibition and the impact of this philosophical theory.
Before finding the definition of deconstruction in the field of architecture, Jacques Derrida has been philosophical movement with Deconstruction as its foremost philosopher and Martin Heidegger’s writing as the roots. Deconstruction is a school of philosophy that originated in France in the late 1960s. Jacques Derrida was born in El Bair, Algeria in 1930 to Spanish immigrant parents. In 1948 he began his studies of philosophy in France after completed his baccalaureate. He presented his paper at Johns Hopkins University in 1966, where his work became eminence.[4] In the 20th century, Deconstruction symbolizes a complicated response to a range of theoretical and philosophical movements, most particularly Husserlian phenomenology, Saussurean and French structuralism, and Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s Destruktion and Abbau is where the term “deconstruction” acquires. Heidegger has developed the major foundation became major theory of post-structuralist thinkers, such as Jacques Derrida. Derrida asserts those terms is literally a “translation’ and what is interpreted is architectural. He describes that Destruktion means “not a destruction but precisely a destructuring that dismantles the structural layers in the system” and Abbau means “to take apart an edifice in order to see how it is constituted or deconstituted”.[5]
“Within architectural circles much confusion surrounds the term ‘deconstruction’”.[6] Architectural deconstruction can be expressed as a trend to design with the outcome of chaos, even though the translation of Deconstruction philosophical theory into architectural fundamental has never state clearly. The outcomes are geometrically abstract, apparently unplanned architectural forms. The architects who grasp this philosophy like try to plan architectural details that seem to be output of dismantling, displacement, deformation or partial demolition of pre-existing edifices’.[7] In 1998, the exhibition titled “Deconstructivist Architecture” presented by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, has marked a turning point in the very essence of architecture. The event held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York has presented the work of seven architects to the public and have been summarized with the generic brand of “Deconstructivist Architecture”.[8] The results are geometrically abstract, seemingly random architectural forms. The architects who embrace this theory thus try to design architectural elements that seem to be products of ‘dismantling, displacement, deformation, or partial demolition of pre-existing edifices’.[9] Deconstruction provides a related way to architecture when its objective in philosophy asserts the need to comment current thought. The design is a clear deviation from earlier conventions and esthetics of architecture when first identified.[10] Nevertheless, the theory is I want to relate the previous assertion that deconstruction introduces initially with the existence of a formed object. The characteristics of Deconstructivism architecture essentially use fractured forms that deviate from the previous model of architectural construction.[11] Architect use these forms of acts as a way to deconstruct the concept and guidance to access a building. They are capable to use the philosophical and dramatic structures combined with Deconstructivism, in order to deconstruct the former ethic in architecture designs.
Nevertheless the philosophy of deconstruction can be used to clarity the architecture design, it can also remark the inquiry about the museum as a concept and how it affects the architecture design. I have discovered that there was a direct shift in the function of museum and its attitude in the cultural landscape in my research. I would like to analyze the shift as not origin, but the changes which reflected in museum design. I will also analyze the stylistic changes with the issues of a new objective of museum. This shift in relation to the objective of museum is regarding the practice of deconstructing the model in order to further the structure towards different speculation and function.
Another essential shift in this research is the purpose of museum itself, while research about the analysis of the shift approaching design museum with deconstruction. Nowadays, in most of the capital cities, museums are recognized as cultural academy. Museums are playing a role of showing the value of culture in our society and mostly the visits are for educational and tourism purposes.[12] In those years, first museum in Western Europe was initially to assemble private collections, which museums nowadays are diverging the authentic use and status of museums. In past, the private collections were belonging to aristocracy and the royal families, their status and knowledge of the museum’s owners were determined by the quantity of collection.[13] The use of a museum as an academy completely to the exclusive is in direct opposition with how nearly all museums are seen nowadays. Most of them have moved from the cabinet paradigm into the new perspective of museum as entertainment. Nowadays, museum visits have become the significant part of the tourism trips as well as promoted as cultural academy.[14] This has assembled as a turning point in the design and layout of museums nowadays. This turning point in the proposed purpose of the museum has turned from an exclusive academy to cultural playground. The influence of turning the concept of museum is bigger than the visitor of museum. In this research, I want to figure out will changing designs of museums with deconstruction affect the purpose of museums.
In this research, I have focused on few museums which designed with deconstruction. The museums are the Militarhistorisches Museum (translated “Military History Museum”) in Dresden, Germany; Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany; Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany and Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany situated outside of Basel, Switzerland. These museums are designed by three outstanding architects, who are Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid.
Frank Gehry and his architecture design is important in deconstructivism, his influence over Deconstructivism in architecture is great. He also acknowledged as the most significant architect and his design is presented across worldwide. For this research, I have chosen one of his architecture design as one of my research topics, which is the Vitra Design Museum which is a museum for design that located at Weil am Rhein,Germany. In addition, the other reason I have chosen Vitra Design Museum is this museum was one of the examples of fractal architecture[15] in museum composition. Vitra Design Museum was Gehry’s first persuasive architecture designed with Deconstruction style and acknowledged an aspect of Deconstructivism in a smaller scale. The location of this museum is within the campus of Vitra furniture manufacturing company outside of Basel, Switzerland and completed in 1989. Vitra Design Museum is conspicuous since it is Gehry’s first architecture design in Europe.[16] Regardless of the scale of this design is modest, the architecture turned up as a practical work of deconstructivism with a combination of towers, ramps and cubes. The exhibition area is in 700 square metres over two floors. Throughout the façade, the design has promoted Gehry’s specific angular shapes and component. At the same time, it also showed that the starting point of his using curves in his architecture design.[17] The vault is built in cement material and designed upward to maximum the capacity of area for this comparatively small museum. Since there is no window on the façade, the scattered skylights are where the natural light entering. These skylights can be open or close depends on exhibit’s requirement. Furthermore, another museum which also designed by Frank Gehry in deconstruction style is the MARTa Museum in Herford, Germany. This museum is completed in 2005, a smaller architecture of Gehry’s committed to present contemporary works. Similarly, Gehry has applied the similar elements of Vitra Design Museum to MARTa Museum, which are the waving forms that involve the façade and roof. The façade is built by brick, and then the stark metal plating is using on the roof and entrance area. Besides, another similar feature is the skylights which allow the flow of natural lighting and adjustable are placed in the exhibition space as well as the lecture hall. The notable use of fractal and angular forms which influenced by Gehry has left major impact on Deconstructivism architecture and dominates the style.
Besides, Daniel Libeskind is another noteworthy Deconstructivist, his design of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s expansion project, “Spiral”. In that design, “Spiral” consists of various fractal structures, which has develop into his trademark style in most of his designs. These can be seen in his designs of museums which located in Dresden and Berlin. The signature fractal forms of Libeskind have featured on the Militarhistorisches Museum (translated “Military History Museum”). In 2011, the museum was extended and reopened afterwards. The architectural expansion is a triangular wedge in dark grey metal, literally popped outward from the original building, which is in in ivory coloured structure built during the early twentieth century. The five-storey pointed steel and glass shard of triangular wedge has made the Militarhistorisches Museum as the largest museum in Germany. The sharp tip of the triangular wedge is pointed towards east, which is the point of firebombs dropped during the war. Besides, the city skyline in the west can be view from the rooftop viewing platform which is 30 metre-height.[18] Moreover, the Jewish Museum Berlin has made his eminence in Deconstructivism architecture, while the Militarhistorisches Museum is one of the latest designs added into his portfolio. The project of Jewish Museum Berlin is highlighting on Jewish history.[19] The design has known as “Between the Lines” and the title of design is named for various reasons, also it has selected in the design competition. The main building is characterized by two broad line-shaped.[20] The first line is a fragmented-linear outline of the main exhibition building; the second line is a theoretical straight line that cut across the building in conjunction with its thematically placed voids. The voids are used for indicting the presence of line by fitting in accordance with this line. There is also a garden of columns in this architecture, where the cube forms rectangular model in the complete structure.[21] Hence, the architecture is designed with fragmented shapes and angles. Similarly with Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid is another architect who used forms and shapes with deconstruction style in her architectural design. Hadid is an Iraqi-born architect based in London, United Kingdom, her design style is more to large fractal forms. Nonetheless, she is renowned for dramatic and organic style which is visible in her architectural design. One of her designs which designed with organic forms is the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany that completed in 2005. The form of architecture is like a platform standing with angular forms. The architecture is built with stark concrete walls in smooth finishes, its façade beautify with speckled outlined pattern windows. The shaped windows are mirrored throughout the interior of structure, which consist of platforms, stairwells, and doorways. Hence, the Phaeno Science Center is diverged from the other architecture and designed as the whole structure which enclosed within one organic and solid model.
I have studied at several particular elements of the design between these museums as well as their exhibition spaces. In this research, I have identified the way deconstructivist designed museums and how deconstructivism affects the museum designs. Firstly, interior design of deconstructivism museum has affected the exterior design. This can be seen in most of the museums which I have researched. The design has movement effects from the exhibition areas to the benches along walls towards the interior of museum. I have noticed that the architectural trends of deconstructivism museums, the style how the deconstructivist designed the elements, such as doorways, benches, windows, mostly related to the background of museum. So, analyzing the interior of deconstructivism museum is essential, as a museum which designed in deconstruction style will affects the visitors’ perspective view of artworks which displayed in the space.
[1] Wigley, M. (1993) The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt. Cambridge: MIT Press.
[2] Ching, F. D. K. (2007) Architecture: Form, Space, and Order. New York: John Wiley