A large curbed wooden structure made of interwoven planks.

A steampunk pavilion combines analog and digital technology

In Tallinn, Estonia, a knotted wooden structure that combines both new and old technology has won the Huts and Habitats award at the Tallinn Architecture Biennale.

Curated by Yael Reisner under the theme “Beauty Matters,” the biennale seeks to celebrate the beauty in opposition to architectural environs that can often be isolating, alienating, and ecologically unsound.

People working overlaid with 3D renders of a curving line.
With help from Fologram, the designers integrated mixed reality solutions into their design process. (Courtesy Soomeen Hahm design)

Steampunk, as the installation is called, is designed to show off the latest in tech while retaining a human touch. It was designed by Soomeen Hahm and Igor Pantic, who both teach at the Bartlett, as well as Cameron Newnham and Gwyllim Jahn of software company Fologram, and constructed along with the engineers at Format and the Estonian lumber building specialists Thermory. Standing 13 feet tall, the thermally-modified pavilion is made of steam-bent ash wood, with hand-crafted elements sitting side-by-side with parts that have been CNC-milled and 3D printed; blurring the boundaries between the analog and digital in process and production. Steampunk was also designed in part using mixed reality tech, further complicating this “human-machine collaboration,” as biennial juror Areti Maropoulo put it.

“The structure challenges the idea of the primitive hut—showing how, by using algorithmic logic, simple raw materials can be turned into a highly complex and inhabitable structure,” said Gilles Retsin, TAB 2019’s Installation Program Curator, in a release from the biennale.

A curved timber pavilion
Steam-bent timber was warped to create an enfolding space. (Courtesy Soomeen Hahm Design)

“[Steampunk] consists of a bespoke merging of craft, immersive technologies, and material performance, for the production of dynamic organic forms that surpass building limitations of local precision or of the pure automate,” explained Areti Markopoulo, head of the jury for the installation program, in a press release.

The pavilion is the latest in a long line high-tech timber installations, as architects, researchers, and educators all try their hand at pushing the boundaries of what timber can do; take Cornell University’s Robotic Construction Laboratory’s LOG KNOT, for example.

Steampunk will be on view until 2021.