Wood is the ultimate sustainable building material, and right now there is a lot of it to be used, thanks to the Mountain Pine Beetle. Steven Teeple built the new Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Alberta, Canada out of big sticks of beetle-kill timber, with as many as six pieces coming together at a single point.
But the real wow factor is in the connections at those points where the wood comes together; usually a connector would be made of steel. Being a Steven Teeple building, they would all be different and they would all be very complex. So instead of steel they built the connectors up from CNC milled douglas fir plywood. Jenny Jones of Architect Magazine explains:
Working with Vancouver, British Columbia–based engineering firm Fast + Epp, the architects used Rhinoceros to model and then deconstruct the nodes into manageable 2D pieces for milling. The largest nodes, at more than 59 inches tall and 94 inches wide, stack together approximately 180 plies. “With computer technology, it was easy to map out each layer and to create the form we were looking for,” Teeple says.
Using the plug-in Grasshopper, Fast + Epp virtually inserted stainless steel screws, as long as 47 inches, through the modeled nodes as rebar. Similar to a strut-and-tie system, the screws allow the nodes to handle both compression and tension loads, which the firm confirmed through physical mock-ups.
Try building that from paper with a table saw. It's another example of the kinds of things that digital fabrication can do, essentially 3D printing complex connectors out of layers of plywood, direct from computer to tool. No wonder this got a citation at the AIA R&D Awards.