Computer system designs structures based on available reclaimed wood

It is sad to see that even though our forests are disappearing at an alarming rate, new wooden structures are usually made of completely new wood. A special computer system could help change that, making it easier to use salvaged wood from existing buildings.

Currently in development at the ETH Zurich research institute, the system is initially used to create an inventory of all the pieces of wood that users may have harvested from a building or other structure slated for demolition. This wood could also be pieces left over from construction projects.

Once the dimensions of all the rooms have been recorded, the user specifies the type and size of the structure he wishes to build. The system responds by generating a design for the structure, whose geometry and dimensions are based on the available reclaimed wood. Each piece of wood has a unique QR code laser engraved on it, so it can be easily selected and assigned to a specific part of the structure

In a proof-of-concept demonstration of the technology, an ETH team led by Asst. Professor Catherine De Wolf began by dismantling an entire floor of a former car park in Geneva which was soon to be demolished. The pieces of wood were then individually measured, nails and other foreign objects removed, their data entered into the system and their QR codes applied.

Each piece of wood is marked with a unique QR code

Daniel Winkler/ETH Zurich

Following a design created by the system based on available wood, the team proceeded to construct a wood-studded geodesic dome. It is made entirely of salvaged materials and can be seen in the video below.

Later, De Wolf envisions a system in which an online digital platform provides information about the materials used in existing buildings. Architects could consult this platform, basing their designs on materials that would soon become available as buildings were demolished.

Readers might also be interested in an experimental system at MIT, which selects sections recovered from trees for use in construction projects.

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Source: ETH Zürich

Gordon K. Morehouse