This project explores the possibilities of using the hygroscopic proprieties of wood as a programmable material.

The aim of the research is to explore the potential of temporary structures through a new method of design, the study of shells, and new applications of the physical behavior of wood. The design process is driven by trial and error through physical tests on the material based which go to inform the concept of a new pavilion to exhibit this research into design.


Diagram of the design space. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Diagram of the design space. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]

The process is divided into two parts: local and global. The first concerns itself with the fabrication process and the structure in terms of assembly of local parts which take into consideration the material proprieties of wood. The second concerns itself on the morphology of the actual pavilion design according to the structural principle of a seashell. Biomimetics implies the consciousness of understanding natural structures and their process through principles that can be adapted to procedures and technologies in the design process. The genome of the project is given by a code that can be reinterpreted to different contexts and through parameters that can acquire multiple variations.


Seashell picture. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Seashell picture. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]

From the study of the seashell, four main principles arise that bring rigidity to the overall shape. The form is distributed in two directions, stiffening the body and distributing the weight efficiently, while the distortion of the line in the shell modifies the distribution of the forces, thus preventing it from breaking.

Experimenting with paper models give the possibilities to observe how the crease increments the resistance of a simple sheet of paper activated by a cinematic movement. Transferring the physical system of folding paper into a digital environment, the range expands drastically by using a code that simulates the act of folding. By changing the shape of the folding the result is different every time, giving the possibilities to create a catalog. The result of this catalog also brings to light the possibilities of using these modules as a self-supporting structure and the ability to develop the surface in a planar sheet.


Study model of paper folding experiment. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Study model of paper folding experiment. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Paper model of the global geometry. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Paper model of the global geometry. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Diagram for fabrication of modules with positive and negative Gaussian curvature. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Diagram for fabrication of modules with positive and negative Gaussian curvature. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]


The system is already self-supported, but by adding additional force and bending in the modules, the stiffness increments exponentially. Again using biomimetic principles, it is possible to observe the pinecone’s behaviour in relation to humidity and how an automatic mechanism is activated by the change of it.


Close up view of a pinecone in closed and open state. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Close up view of a pinecone in closed and open state. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]

At the moment of converging the morphologic system with its fabrication, the build prototype gives the certainty that the system is feasible. Using a simple test inside a humidified control room, it is possible to measure the curvature of different samples at different percentages of humidity.


Video of material test in humidified control room. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Video of material test in humidified control room. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]

The developed fabrication process uses a simple mechanism of absorption and resistance of forces in direct contrast between a special bilayer of plywood. The lamination process takes into consideration how the fibres are layered in the pinecone petal to activate the cinematic mechanism at the variation of humidity. The evolution of the test reveals how it is possible to control and reverse this mechanism.


Functional prototype of assembled modules in humidified control room. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Functional prototype of assembled modules in humidified control room. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]

A joint is developed in order to merge the components together to allow flexibility of the structure and simplify the assembly process. The functional prototype succeeded in testing a cinematic structure capable of rearranging its microscopic cell organisation by adapting its shape to various climactic conditions.


Close up view of wood joints. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Close up view of wood joints. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Micro, Meso and Macro structure hierarchy of the system. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]
Micro, Meso and Macro structure hierarchy of the system. [Copyright Luigi Olivieri]


The output of the project is divided in three levels. First, the hygroscopic mechanism of wood cells and how it can be programmed to achieve different results. Second, the joint that allows the modules to connect together and guarantee mechanical strength. Third, the morphology and the architectural function of the shape.


About the Author

Luigi Olivieri is an architect and computational designer. He attended “La Sapienza” University in Rome, Italy where he received his bachelor degree in Architecture and Science of the City. During the course of his Master program at the University of “Roma Tre”, Luigi spent his second year at the University of Stuttgart working at the ITECH Master program for the duration of the entire year. He completed his Master’s in Rome with a presentation on material programming as his final thesis. Luigi moved on to work in different international firms from Tomas Saraceno to Fuksas Architecture and Rimond, participating in projects of different scales.

He is currently interested in emergent technology, computational design, and architectural fabrication.

Luigi believes that studying emergent structure and natural principles can help architects find a better way of using technology and material to program efficient structures for the future of tomorrow.