Just Like an Erector Set

Erector set, for those unfamiliar with the reference – a building toy similar to the English Meccano, sold in the US. It’s not Lego:

While both Meccano and Erector Set (I had various sets and parts from both as a child) employ metal components which fasten together with bolts, I recently came across an interesting structure designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban that was reminiscent somehow, though comprised largely of wood. This is the largest timber structure – 7 stories – in all of Switzerland, and is quite an interesting design from a number of viewpoints.

Here’s Shigeru Ban, who also happens to be the 2014 Pritzker Price recipient for Architecture:

He apparently always dresses in black.

This is the Tamedia Building he designed:

Another view, showing the building’s non-square footprint:

The structure was completed in 2013. The company who constructed the wooden frame is Blumer-Lehman, which has been in business in Gossau since 1875. Here’s a picture from their company history page, showing a slice of the early days:

The above image, in terms of technology, perhaps well encapsulates the ideal for more than a few North American timber frame companies these days, if I might be a bit cheeky. Blumer Lehman has moved along a bit. They are a big company, and build many types of wooden structures, from offices, residence, modular structures – even huge wooden grain silos.

It’s when you see the Tamedia building peeled open, as it was when under construction, that the unique framing becomes clear to see:

The parts of the building are akin to skeleton bones, enlarged at the ends, slimmer in the middle. Elliptical section horizontal rods pierce the nodes:

This is where attention to detail pays off:

As the face of the building turns the facet, we see a post with a parallelogram-shaped section, and the dog-bone shaped beams are stretched, as it were, to fit the post. Neat!

A closer look at some of the framing details. The elliptical gluelams are high quality and are not as aesthetically objectionable as many I have seen:

It’s an intriguing connection – the tenon on one end fits to a corresponding mortise on the next elliptical beam:

Here’s a shot which shows the splice joints between elliptical beams a little better:

The parts are well fitted – as I understand, CNC machinery was employed:

A node:

In this picture, if you look at the lower end of the posts which the workers are sitting atop, you will see a Japanese type of compression splice, jūji-mechigai-tsugi:

In case you didn’t spot it, look for a vertical splice that looks like this:

I’m not normally too excited about glue-lams in general, but I find the ones used in this structure to be attractive. A big plus in regards to glue-lams is that they can be laminated out of completely dry material. And I don’t think you could do seven stories in solid timber without recourse to using some really large trees.

In case you were thinking that glue-lams are not the way the Japanese would do it, you might be surprised to find that a lot of glue-laminated timbers are used in the poshest of sukiya teahouses. Here’s an example, this post faced with hinoki:

Laminated ceiling rods:

Anyway, the Tamedia building’s used of a wooden frame along with the usual glass, steel and concrete creates some aesthetically pleasing interior spaces:

Roof area:

It must have been fun fitting the ceiling mateiral in and around the timber connections:

In this one you can see one of those parallogram-shaped posts to the left – chunky!:

All for today. How do you like this structure? It’s a lot more environmentally friendly than most 7-story urban structures, both in the construction’s environmental footprint and in it’s energy efficient operation.

8 thoughts on “Just Like an Erector Set

  1. Hi
    Hi, this blog is really amazing and provide me answers to all my questions regarding This is really informative and I will for sure refer my friends the same.

  2. Certainly very pleasing to look at.

    I guess we need to come back in 30 years time and see how the glue is holding up.



  3. I do not see diagonal connectors, looks that this building is not very ridgid-probably this is the goal.But still it would be intresting to know more about structural background.

  4. Priit,

    thanks for your comment. There a few diagonal braces fitted into the structure. I didn't include that photo in my blog above however.


  5. Derek,

    thanks for the comment. That's the trade off with glue-lams of course – who knows how long the glue will last? Some glue-lam constructions are better than others in that regard. If the laminated parts have complimentary grain runs (i.e., tangential on top of tangential, or radial on top of radial) at least the wood movement won't be working aggressively against the glue bond.

    The embedded energy of manufacture of CNC profiled and cut glue lams is going to be substantially more than solid timber, however it will be significantly less than other common structural systems for large buildings, like steel and concrete.


Anything to add?