Multi-Functional Lego-Like Plywood Building Blocks Create Limitless Design Solution

Out of 200 applicants, London-based Gilles Retsin Architecture won the Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2017 competition with their temporary outdoor installation. Participants were challenged to use the fabrication abilities of Estonian wooden house manufacturers in a new and creative way. Jury member Martin Tamke said the Retsin proposal is, “characterized by outstanding aesthetic and intellectually challenging, as it questions current beliefs and trends in architecture."

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Retsin engineered CNC-cut plywood building blocks which, like Legos, can create many different design solutions. Plywood was locally sourced, and the blocks were designed with standard sheet size (3.3 x 1.35 m) in mind. Segments come as structurally supportive straight, 45-degree, 90-degree, and 135-degree elements. The block’s connection derives from off-the-rack threaded rods, used in suspended ceilings which allow the building blocks to function as column, beam, and cladding simultaneously. This raises the question, can we reduce the number of traditional construction industry parts?

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80 building blocks were created out of 380 square meters of cut plywood. In just four days, four men were able to assemble the prefab 80 building blocks into the 75 square meter pavilion without using any mechanical tools. The structure weighs 2 tons and can support up to four people.

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The structure is representative of a construction system which could be part of a larger model. Its horizontal organization lends it to appear unfinished, open to continuation. The pavilion’s quick and affordable production makes it a scalable project; applicable to different project types and/or materials such as cross-laminated timber or laminated veneer lumber. CNC building block projects such as this one allow the architects to examine technology’s ability to inform not only formal expression but social agency as well.

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Designer: Gilles Retsin Architecture
Design Team: Gilles Retsin, Ivo Tedbury, Oscar Walheim
Engineering: Manja van de Worp, YIP Structural Engineering London
Construction Team: Isaie Bloch, Ward Delbeke, Gilles Retsin, Kevin Saey, Ivo Tedbury, Oscar Walheim
Client: Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2017
TAB Volunteers: Mari Poom, Ra Puhkan, Mia Peil, Elsbeth Aarsalu, Katariina Mustasaar, Henri Ingelman
TAB Installation Curators: Sille Pihlak, Siim Tuksam
With Support of The British Council
Academic Partner: The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL Design Computation Lab and Estonian Academy of Arts

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Cite: Lindsey Leardi. "Multi-Functional Lego-Like Plywood Building Blocks Create Limitless Design Solution" 24 Dec 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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