Curved shapes have always sparked architects' fascination for evoking nature's beauty, fluidity, dynamism, and complexity. To replicate these shapes, however, is no easy task. From their two- or three-dimensional representation to their execution in their final materials, this represents an enormous difficulty, which requires technical expertise and a great amount of knowledge to achieve strong results. Thinking of new ways to produce organic shapes from natural materials is even more complicated.
In addition to this, working with a natural material such as wood carries its own set of peculiarities. Factors such as the species of wood, where the tree grew, what climate it faced, when it was cut, how it was sliced or dried, among many other variables, largely influence the final result. But it's hard for other materials to compare to the beauty and warmth that wooden surfaces bring to the built environment. If the appropriate processes are used, wood can be curved and remain in the desired shape - and for this, there is a number of known techniques which Australian company, Sculptform, has perfected.
Sculptform specializes in developing curved wooden Click-on Battens for walls and ceilings, enabling architects and builders to create buildable and affordable solutions for their curved concepts. When working with curved pieces of timber on a commercial scale, the factors that need to be considered depending on the intended application are wood species and density, the desired curve radius, and which easy and intuitive fastening method should be used for the construction.
Two methods are used to create the organic shapes:
Steam Bending: When heated with steam, wood obtains a malleable quality and remains in the desired shape after cooling.
Kerfing: this process involves cutting small notches in the back of a wooden batten to allow the wood to be curved around a substructure. These pieces are supplied pre-drilled on site in straight but flexible lengths and are suitable for sheltered indoor and outdoor spaces.
Each timber Click-on batten, with the form foreseen for the project, is molded at their Australian factory with a groove in the back that serves as an interface between the support batten and the company's patented Click-on connection. Because of this, the assembly of complex parts is achieved quickly on site by simply clicking the batten into place.
An impressive case study is the design of Sculptform’s Melbourne Design Studio, designed by Woods Bagot. It is a complex challenge to design a space for a brand - be it an office or concept store - and it is essential that the architect has a good understanding of the company, its demands, products, and aesthetics. Bruno Mendes, Principal at Woods Bagot, points out that “The ambition was to create a space to immerse in Sculptform's products and ethos, showcasing the company’s hand-crafted philosophy. In form, the studio’s architecture takes visitors on a physical journey through Sculptform’s processes – showcasing the fully visible workshop space, the Co-lab, which sits at the heart of the design. Catering to groups of many different sizes, it is a space to host Melbourne’s design community through integrated spatial features such as the auditorium seating and concealed screen.
"The intention was to create a sequence of events revealing the various interior spaces as people looped naturally through the space. The material of American White Oak is used on the floor, walls and ceiling – conjuring the experience of being enveloped by the distinctive timber. As a wayfinding element, the rising and ebbing tide of timber signifies the path through the showroom, looping back around to the communal space. The journey opens out to third spaces for focused work, natural light or collaborative meetings. These spaces are highlighted in contrasting materials and finishes. The physical loop hinges around the Co-lab, a workshop for the creative incubation of Sculptform’s processes and where prototypes are created. A glazed wall makes the Co-lab’s activities visible, bringing a theatricality into the showroom. Meeting rooms and breakout spaces lie behind timber-battened doors to maintain the continuity of the striking curved form. The workspaces incorporate agile methodologies with versatile meeting spaces, stand up meeting areas and an ideation table."
The project was a chance to collaborate on a close study of timber's possibilities with Sculptform, who also constructed the space and all the custom joinery. The design process explored timbers potential beyond its conventional form. This resulted in Sculptform importing equipment unavailable anywhere in Australia and developing new steam-bent timber production and application techniques to deliver the sweeping lines demanded by the ambitious concept.
The project even triggered more innovations and the creation of new products that would later be included in the company's product catalog. According to Bruno, “With their expertise in craft of product, and an enthusiasm to be pushed to new limits, Sculptform used steam-bending technologies and created a new pivot clip system which is now part of their product offering. The featured timber work showcases the Click-on Batten system, with the studio design leading to the development of new capabilities in steam-bent timber to create the curved feature bulkhead.” In other words; technology, craftsmanship, and creativity walking hand-in-hand.