The Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart have completed a new research pavilion demonstrating robotic textile fabrication techniques for segmented timber shells. The pavilion is the first of its kind to employ industrial sewing of wood elements on an architectural scale. The project was designed and realized by students and researchers within a multi-disciplinary team of architects, engineers, biologists, and palaeontologists.


The development of the ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2015-16 is characterised by a twofold bottom-up design strategy based on the biomimetic investigation of natural segmented plate structures and novel robotic fabrication methods for sewing thin layers of plywood. The project commenced with the analysis of the constructional morphology of sand dollars. At the same time, a fabrication technique was developed that enables the production of elastically bent, double-layered segments made from custom-laminated, robotically sewn beech plywood. Introducing textile connection methods in timber construction enables extremely lightweight and performative segmented timber shells.


The pavilion consists of 151 segments that were prefabricated by robotic sewing. Each of them is made out of three individually laminated beech plywood strips. Ranging between 0.5 and 1.5 m in diameter, their specific shapes and material make-up are programmed to fit local structural and geometrical requirements. The textile connections developed for this project allow overcoming the need for any metal fasteners. The entire structure weighs 780 Kg while covering an area of 85 m² and spanning 9.3 meters. With a resulting material thickness / span ratio of 1/1000 on average, the building has a structural weight of only 7.85 Kg/m².


The overall design responds to site-specific conditions on the university campus. It establishes a semi-exterior space that integrates the ground topography as a seating landscape and opens towards the adjacent public square. At the same time it demonstrates the morphologic adaptability of the developed system by generating more complex spatial arrangements than a simple shell structure. The research pavilion shows how the computational synthesis of biological principles and the complex reciprocities between material, form and robotic fabrication can lead to innovative timber construction methods. This multidisciplinary research approach does not only lead to performative and material efficient lightweight structure, it also explores novel spatial qualities and expands the tectonic possibilities of wood architecture. Learn more about the ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion 2015-16 here


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main image and video courtesy of ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart – other images © Roland Halbe