Chicago Biennial: SOM explores Future Timber Construction Methods

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has collaborated with University of Michigan Taubman College to create the SPLAM [SPatial LAMinated timber], a robotically-fabricated timber pavilion for the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial. Prefabricated framing panels are used to construct the pavilion. It will be open-air educational facility and gathering space for Chicago schools. The Chicago Biennial opened September 17th and the pavilion was officially inaugurated. It will be on display until December 18th.

© Kendall McCaugherty © Hall+Merrick Photographers

Professors Tsz Yan Nag and Wes McGee lead the team. They chose to emphasize timber’s sustainable benefits and highlight its advantages in construction. This pavilion uses spatial-laminated wood (SLT), which is a material that optimizes traditional framing systems. It is also used in mid-rise fire resistant structures. SLT is lighter than conventional timber panels and can reduce timber consumption by 46%. Interlocking timber joints are used to join the beams, which use shorter and more salvaged pieces.

SPLAM is a project that weaves together timber beams as threads in fabric. It explores the possibility of using smaller pieces than traditional mass-produced timber constructions. This allows wood to be sourced quickly from renewable forests or even salvaged parts of deconstructed buildings. — Scott Duncan, SOM Design Partner

On September 17, the fourth Chicago Architecture Biennial opened its doors to the public. It featured 15 site-specific interventions in the urban environment, which tap into ideas about shared space and collective agency. The Biennial also explored “who gets to take part in the design of the city”. This year’s edition, led by David Brown, Artistic Director, aims to show how vacant urban spaces can be used as collective spaces. It will also feature interventions that were developed in close collaboration and with the community. The event also highlights the potential for “immediate possibilities” and shows the impact of small urban gestures.

© Kendall McCaugherty © Hall+Merrick Photographers

SOM recently revealed its design for New York City Public Health Laboratory. This ten-storey building is designed to improve the city’s ability to address a range of public health problems and future challenges. The laboratory is organized in a cube-shaped glass volume that steps outward from a podium with community-related functions. Each volume demonstrates its unique materiality. The program is divided into two volumes.

© Kendall McCaugherty © Hall+Merrick Photographers