Achieving Organic Shaped Structures Using Timber Frames.

Lucia R

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Organic structures, shape-wise, are the opposite of orthogonal ones: they often don't follow straight lines and shapes, which makes them a little more difficult to achieve using traditional methods of construction and retail materials. That being said, organic structures are not entirely different to orthogonal ones when it comes to assembling them- the method changes, but the principle is the same: rigid frames covered with somewhat flexible boards that keep the structure together. These organic structures can be used either for interior design (a self-supporting structure, more akin to a sculpture) or architecture (full structural constructive method).

How to achieve an organic shape?

There are two ways to achieve an organic shaped structure: through 3d "printing" and through manual tracing and cutting. The first one is easier and faster, but it's not attainable for everyone as it requires special cutting equipment. The second one requires more man-hours, a qualified team of woodworkers and it might not be as precise, but it's within reach for anyone who wishes to do it.

3D printing

There's special "3D cutting" equipment that cuts timber boards into precise customized shapes; this equipment is mostly used by prefab housing companies, to cut and perforate boards that will be assembled either on site or in the factory to be transported in a container. But how can we use those machines to "print" customized, non-orthogonal shapes? These machines cut using information provided by a 3D virtual model; the kind of software used to shape the structure processes the 3D model and pieces it into frames (making of section cuts at a specified distance from each other) , creating templates in dwg for each of those shapes. The machine reads each template separately, and cuts them with precision following the template's dimensions, curves and angles; these pieces can be assembled afterwards, following the blueprints generated by the software, like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The "Artisanal" Way

If you don't have a "3D" printer, you may achieve an organic shape through manual tracing and cutting. The first step is to model the structure on a 3D modelling software, one that allows you to piece the structure afterwards in order to get several templates (just like with 3D printing). With this method, however, you don't have a machine that directly interprets those templates, so you'll have to do it yourself. The next step is to print those templates separately and to a 1:1 scale, real scale, in order to place them on the boards and proceed to cut the desired shapes. Then, when the pieces are cut, you may proceed to assemble the structure.


Assembling the frames, or "bones" of the structure, is a lot like assembling any other timber structure. Depending on the finish you desire and the kind of structure you'll be making, there are different ways to assemble it.

- If you want the bones of the structure to be visible and you want to hide what's behind it (like a ceiling, equipment, wiring), in a decorative non-structural way, you may place structural plaques keeping it together at the non-visible side of the structure. If it's a full architectural structure, you'll have to sacrifice some of the visible structure to make it sturdier and add insulation creating a double plaque filling between the bones.

- If you want the bones of the structure to be visible to create a structure within a structure, and you want a semi translucent finish so the two structures are evident, you may place horizontal pieces holding the frames. That way you'll be able to see through the structure and into the structure. The shape, position and thickness of the structural holders will depend on your design.

- If you don't want the bones of the structure to be visible- a solid organic mass- you may combine horizontal structural holders and any kind of finish plaques you have in mind, to close the structure keeping the shape. Alternatively, you may only use structural plaques to hold it together. If the structure is a full architectural one, you'll have to keep in mind adding insulation to the fillings between the bones and the structural plaques.

Do you know of any other ways? Have you tried it, or are thinking about trying this technique?

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