Open Source Timber Systems as a Democratic Tool for Construction

  • Ulrich Dangel School of Architecture, The University of Texas at Austin


Architecture, as it exists today, is deeply rooted in perceptions that were established during the Renaissance, which credited the architect as the sole author of creative thinking processes and the resultant design ideas. Since then, the architectural profession has desired to develop new and innovative ways of building, often without being bound by traditions, the environment, or any other constraints and limitations. This approach has frequently failed to address the needs and concerns of many. As a result, architects have not been successful in imparting significant social change that is valuable to large portions of the population. In contrast, however, many other industries have adopted shared design and production practices for the benefit of the masses, warranting further exploration into how architectural practice might evolve its current modes of operation. Wood as a building material has many beneficial characteristics–specifically its widespread availability, versatility, and ease of workability–which make it particularly suitable for investigating shared authorship and collective production methodologies. As an alternative to steel and concrete for mid-rise and high-rise buildings, mass timber construction, in particular, has experienced significant advancements in recent years, resulting in the development of entirely new building processes that rely on innovative engineered wood products, digital manufacturing, and prefabrication techniques. However, this has frequently led to expensive one-off proprietary solutions that are limited in their application. To foster innovation and disseminate knowledge, an open source culture of designing and sharing is necessary. To this end, this paper will present approaches for open source mass timber construction systems that can be applied to a wide range of scenarios and settings, with the aim of ultimately increasing the acceptance and market share of wood construction for the benefit of society at large.