HygroShell: self-shaping of a lightweight wood structure

November 7, 2023 / Christina Fischer

The ITECH Research Pavilion is being exhibited for the first time at the Chicago Architecture Biennial from November 1, 2023, and will be on display until February 11, 2024.
[Picture: ITECH/ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart]

The built environment is at the intersection of complex ecological, socio-economic, and socio-cultural crises, and urgently requires a fundamentally new approach to design and implementation. HygroShell, first presented at the Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) 2023, is at the forefront of this paradigm shift. The project was designed, developed, and realized by students and researchers from the interdisciplinary Master's program ITECH and the Excellence Cluster IntCDC at the University of Stuttgart.

The new approach of HygroShell utilizes and explores the previously undesirable hygroscopic material properties of wood to create form and structure. Materials are called hygroscopic when they can absorb and release moisture from the environment. The self-shaping system is demonstrated at a 1:1 scale through the design, construction, and production of a wide-span, lightweight shell made of individual curved wood components. This leverages advances in computer-based design to activate moisture-induced wood shrinkage for the in-situ shaping of planar building elements.

HygroShell ITECH Research Pavilion, Chicago Architecture Biennial 2023

Duration: 03:05 | © ICD | Source: YouTube

Innovative Approach to Sustainable Building

The result is a delicate yet functional curved roof structure with a span of ten meters and an incredibly thin 28-millimeter thick laminated timber cross-section. HygroShell pursues an innovative approach to sustainable building, where digital calculation methods are employed to harness the natural properties of wood both as an in-situ shaping mechanism and as a structural and building envelope component. Through this deep understanding of natural materials, it is possible to achieve a new level of functional integration and ecological effectiveness in material and form.

HygroShell is a groundbreaking project that demonstrates how sustainable architecture can be created using natural materials and innovative technologies. Visitors to the CAB have the opportunity to experience the future of architecture and its impact on the environment until February 24, 2024.


Institute for Computational Design and Construction – ICD

Dr.-Ing. Dylan Wood, Laura Kiesewetter, Prof. Achim Menges

Institute for Building Structures and Structural Design – ITKE

Dr.-Ing. Axel Körner, Kenryo Takahashi, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Knippers

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