The Flexi’ Nature of Wood

As you can see below, there have been many examples over time of people bending wood into seemingly unnatural forms.

SIXIXIS Bentwood Furniture

Forming the rib of a violin.

Studio Gang’s South Pond Pavilion

Glulam Arch

All of the above examples were made with the intention of the end product as being a static thing. The properties of wood allow for the manipulation of the wood’s cells when heated and/or moistened. When the wood is heated and/or moistened it becomes very malleable allowing bending to take place where then it can be fastened in a mold until dry in order to keep the new bent shape. If the wood is removed from the form before it dries, the wood returns to its original shape. Other techniques of bending wood include Kerf-cutting (cutting channels side by side into the wood, leaving space for bending to occur) and laminating (gluing things sheets of wood together in a curve form).

When the flexible nature of wood is put to use in form, a whimsicality is expressed by nature of the material being forced in an alternative way. What happens if instead of forcing the wood into unnatural shapes, however, the flexible nature is used in a more natural way? The atmosphere shifts from high humidity to very dry over spans of time, sometimes throughout a day and most definitely during seasonal shifts… especially in Minnesota! Testing has been done using wood’s deformation due to humidity levels in very dynamic ways.

Reflexive Architecture Machines

As we know, wood will bend under moisture and remain in a new shape if forced into the shape and dried, but if unfastened the wood will spring back into shape. Jason Payne of Hirsuta takes on the shingle in the design for a house. The shingles are attached to the façade unconventionally with grain perpendicular to what one would see in woodworking, grain oriented on the short axis.

Jason Payne’s take on the shingle.

Jason Paye’s take on the shingle

This experiment allows the wood shingles to curl when dried out and flatten as they become wet. Movement in architecture has been a theme of the posts that I have touched on in the last three weeks, but what makes this example special is that power is not required for the movement to take place. Dynamism occurs with just the cooperation between wood and the climate around. Thinking about the flexi’ nature of wood in a more natural way opens doors to many possibilities for rain screen type cladding systems that could add much more interest to a building in a relatively simple and cost effective way.


One response to “The Flexi’ Nature of Wood

  1. Its cool to see posts of many precedents that share a common quality. There is something about wood in this post (and concrete in another) that you are uncovering with these investigations. Wood naturally bends, its part of the strength in trees. If they were brittle they would snap in the wind. Most of these examples exploit the extreme bending of wood and then freeze it to that form. It would be interesting if anyone was able to utilize the continual flexing quality of wood. Nice blogging!

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