serving as an architectural prototype as well as a gallery space, the ‘landesgartenschau exhibition hall’ is a lightweight timber structure realized using robotic fabrication technologies. located in the town of schwäbisch gmünd, germany, the shell-like construction is composed of interlocking beech plywood plates, and shelters a 125 sqm hall. documented here in photographs by roland halbe, the overall building form pinches in the center distinguish two dome geometries, which reflect the distinction between the entrance and main display area within.

stuttgart university landesgartenschau exhibition hall designboom
the structure is composed of interlocking plywood plates
image by roland halbe



utilizing various computational design tools, the project was initially developed at the university of stuttgart by a collaborative team including the institute for computational design (ICD, prof. achim menges), the institute of building structures and structural design (ITKE, prof. jan knippers), and the institute of engineering geodesy (IIGS, prof. volker schwieger). the hall is organized by two separate spatial zones, the entrance and main gallery area, which are reflected in the overall building geometry as two distinct domes. between, the connecting interstitial space is defined the structure pinches to create a saddle-like form, where the shell consists of concave polygonal plates. the ends of the curving structure are chopped along a straight line, and infilled with glass curtain walls. visitors enter through the smaller of these façades, while the larger provides a view of the grove of trees adjacent to the site.

stuttgart university landesgartenschau exhibition hall designboom
the form includes two distinct dome geometries connected by a saddle between
image by roland halbe



the project sought to be highly resourceful with material usage. aided by computational design tools and robotic fabrication, the thin and load bearing structure only required 12 sqm of beech plywood. additionally, almost all scrap produced during the cutting of interlocking plates was re-used in the wood flooring. after digitally prefabricating all elements of the structure and building layers (such as insulation, waterproofing, and cladding), on-site assembly was completed in only four weeks.

stuttgart university landesgartenschau exhibition hall designboom
visitors enter the structure through the smaller glazed façade
image by roland halbe



the design is informed by biological processes, particularly the lightweight wood structure references the skeletons of sea urchins, which: ‘utilize a modular system of calcium carbonate plates that are joined by microscopic interlocking projections along the plate edges that are very similar to man-made finger joints.’

stuttgart university landesgartenschau exhibition hall designboom
the interlocking plywood plate geometry translates directly to define the interior spaces
photo by ICD/ITKE/IIGS university stuttgart



the structure’s design is aided heavily by advanced computational design tools. digital programs allow for specific material characteristics and fabrication parameters to be applied in virtual space, thus serving to perform simulations for optimization an optimized configuration. ‘rather than drawing each plate manually, the plate’s design space is incorporated into a simulation and optimization process for automated form-finding, which includes parameters and constraints of robotic fabrication.’

stuttgart university landesgartenschau exhibition hall designboom
the interior space provides a view toward a grove of trees adjacent to the site
image by roland halbe



as a result of highly detailed and parametrically designed computer model, the project utilized robotic tools to prefabricate the building elements. these pieces include 243 geometrically unique beech plywood plates, as well as the insulation, waterproofing, and cladding. the structure comprises of, ‘7600 individual finger joints, which, through their interlocking connection, are the main reason for the building’s structural stability.’ 


the project team continues: ‘still visible in the building’s interior, the finger joint connections resemble the sand dollar’s microscopic connections and are only efficiently producible with a seven axis robotic fabrication setup. the industrial robot’s kinematic flexibility is an essential requirement for the production of such complex and individual geometries. consequently, the fact that, similar to the sand dollar’s plate skeleton, all plywood plates are geometrically unique, poses no additional difficulties. pre-fabrication of the plate shell elements required only 3 weeks.’

each of the 243 plates are geometrically unique to their location in the structure
photo by ICD/ITKE/IIGS university stuttgart



robotic prefabrication of the entire building composition resulted in a much higher precision during assembly. to assure this, the project utilized advanced surveying techniques, including, ‘a laser tracker capable of scanning in a sub millimetre range.’  the project team elaborates that, ‘the finished building will repeatedly be scanned three-dimensionally to analyse the structure’s long-term behaviour. at this point, it was already possible to conclude that the plywood plate’s in-plane mean square deviation, which is a measure for fabrication accuracy, is only 0.86mm. in comparison to tolerances in conventional timber construction, this is an exceptionally low value – especially considering that the plate structure is building shell and finished interior surface at the same time. ultimately, this accuracy is a necessary requirement for performative connection geometries in timber construction.’

stuttgart university landesgartenschau exhibition hall designboom
photo by ICD/ITKE/IIGS university stuttgart



the landesgartenschau exhibition hall is the first building of its kind, composed of robotically fabricated beech plywood plates. this lightweight timber layer simultaneously serves as the structure and envelope, the structural loads that occur around the plate’s edges are transferred efficiently by the robotically fabricated finger joints. ‘this new kind of timber construction allows the building to be made of only 50mm thick plywood plates. using locally available beech is not only in accordance with future foresting strategies in central europe, but is also especially suitable for lightweight timber constructions because of the material’s excellent mechanical characteristics.’

stuttgart university landesgartenschau exhibition hall designboom
photo by ICD/ITKE/IIGS university stuttgart



the exhibition space is part of the biannual ‘landesgartenschau’, and was conceived at the university of stuttgart as part of the ‘robotics in timber construction’  research project. for the fabrication process, the academic institution teamed up with a group of collaborators including müllerblaustein holzbau gmbH, landesgartenschau schwäbisch gmünd 2014 gmbH, the forest administration of baden-württemberg (forstBW) and KUKA robotics gmbH.


a short film describes the project’s process
video courtesy of ICD






project team:


ICD institute for computational design: prof. a. menges (PI), tobias schwinn, oliver david krieg
ITKE institute of building structures and structural design: prof. j. knippers, jian-min li
IIGS institute of engineering geodesy: prof. volker schwieger, annette schmitt
müllerblaustein holzbau gmbh: reinhold müller, benjamin eisele
KUKA roboter gmbh: alois buchstab, frank zimmermann
landesbetrieb forst baden-württemberg: sebastian schreiber, frauke brieger
landesgartenschau schwäbisch gmünd 2014 gmbh: karl-eugen ebertshäuser, sabine rieger