A series of folios presenting design research by staff at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
Discrete Timber Architecture : Gilles Retsin;
Discrete Timber Architecture
by Gilles Retsin

This research project develops a new design paradigm for timber architecture, based on discrete building blocks that can be cut from widely available sheet material. On a technical level, the research develops a computational design and fabrication method where assembly becomes a truly digital process; on a socioeconomic level, it argues for the development of an open, distributed platform for timber construction, which can increase access to housing; and on an architectural level, it introduces higher degrees of complexity and versatility in modular construction.

A typical modernist project using prefabricated elements such as Aldo van Eyck’s Amsterdam Orphanage (1960) is in some respects a discrete form of architecture, as it makes use of a set of parts which connect to each other. However, it is not ‘digital’ as parts are still understood as strict, hierarchical architectural types: columns, beams and cupolas that are organised in an overarching grid and can only appear where they perform specific functions. To qualify as digital, the architectural part would have to be a generic and versatile building block giving rise to functions and features only after combination with other building blocks. The resulting whole in this case transforms as elements are added or removed. This computational understanding of the architectural part is what the discrete paradigm explores.

The work led to a first prize at the Tallinn Architecture Biennale, an installation at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, a solo show at MBUS Design Gallery in Miami, and the co-editing of Discrete: Reappraising the Digital in Architecture for Architectural Design (2019) and Robotic Building: Architecture in the Age of Automation for Detail (2019).