The global climate crisis is not only forcing us to rethink architectural design and the way we live, but also the materials and products that shape our built environment, starting from its origins and manufacture. Toward this end, wood has become an efficient alternative to steel and concrete – materials with high levels of embodied energy – and has led to some important architectural innovations that may culminate in its more widespread use worldwide.
Inspired by the efficiency of nature, Strong By Form has developed Woodflow, a technology that generates wood panels of high structural performance, "combining the optimization of their shape, the orientation of their fibers in relation to the direction of stressors, and the variation in their density for better compression or traction," as explained by its creators. In addition, all of their products are developed in a controlled process through parametric software, integrated into BIM platforms and CNC manufacturing systems.
We talked with Jorge Christie, CTO of Strong By Form, to learn more about this new technology.
What is Strong by Form and where was the inspiration for its development born?
Strong by Form is a company focused on producing high performance sustainable structural materials and products that offer real alternatives to highly polluting materials such as aluminum, steel, or concrete. Today, the construction industry is responsible for about 40% of CO2 emissions and 40% of the consumption of raw materials globally. Our goal is to help reduce these figures as much as possible and at the same time increase the productivity of the industry. The inspiration of our developments lies in the efficiency patterns that can be observed in nature.
In the particular case of Woodflow technology, our reference is trees themselves. These natural structures achieve their high structural performance by combining the optimization of their shape, the orientation of their fibers in relation to the direction of stressors, and the variation in their density for better compression or traction. Much of that natural intelligence is lost when the tree is sawed or processed for the production of wood products. Our intention is to bring this efficiency back to engineered wood and thus achieve maximum performance with minimal material.
What are the components developed so far and how do they work?
Today we are in the process of developing products that allow wood to be incorporated where it is not used today or where – thanks to the freeform characteristics of our technology – we can generate significant material savings.
Currently, we are developing, together with a German construction company, a Woodflow-concrete composite slab, which uses wood at the same time as concrete molding as a tensile reinforcement element. This, we estimate, will save up to 70% in wood volume and 30% in concrete volume, compared to traditional wood-concrete composite slabs. This significant reduction of weight allows prefabrication and the reduction of costs in the transport, assembly, and foundations of the building. All these benefits aim to translate into a positive impact on the cost of housing.
Other products we are working on are, for example, rigid knots in wood that allow more mechanically consistent joints (100% wood) that are lighter and less susceptible to tearing, as well as freeform moldings and applications for ultralight structural shells.
How is Woodflow considered a sustainable material/product?
Strong by Form is a company that was born with the objective of developing technologies that allow us to develop “with” the environment and not “despite” it. Our commitment to sustainable products has several fronts. First, we use renewable raw materials. While we are now working with wood – whose advantages in carbon sequestration are known – our goal is to expand to other plant fibers. This versatility would allow us to develop products based on local raw materials that activate economic and social synergies.
Second, we believe that wood, concrete or any other construction material are precious and scarce goods that must be used ultra-efficiently. Therefore, like nature, we use complex shapes and custom materials to achieve maximum performance with minimum material. As an example, we recently developed a prototype bridge type, which despite being only 4 mm thick and 854 grams in weight, resisted more than 300 kg of load with minimal deflection.
Finally, our technology utilizes additive manufacturing based on discrete reinforcements, which allows, on the one hand, the minimization of waste production and, on the other, the incorporation of a large portion of recycled material.
What new possibilities does Woodflow provide for architects and how could they contribute to the resurgence of wood for mass and height construction, characterized by Mass Timber products?
A particularity of our technology is that it is based on a design-to-manufacturing platform. This means that we control the process from the design of the component to the production, going so far as to define the architecture of the fibers of the material. This “parametric” software allows its integration with BIM design platforms and with any CNC production system. Our vision is that through the development of BIM plugins, architects will be able to explore the application of our products in their designs, and that via cloud, they can connect to our servers to obtain structural memory, costs, and eventually make the purchase-manufacturing order of direct form.
We are convinced that the future of construction lies in the integration of the complete chain of design, engineering, manufacturing, and construction, where computational technologies – now emerging – will allow us to build more efficiently, more sustainably, and with better productivity.
Find more details here.