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ICD-ITKE Research Pavilion

  • ICD-ITKE Research Pavilion
  • ICD-ITKE Research Pavilion
  • ICD-ITKE Research Pavilion
  • ICD-ITKE Research Pavilion
  • ICD-ITKE Research Pavilion


The Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart have completed a new research pavilion demonstrating robotic textile fabrication techniques for segmented timber shells.

The pavilion is the first of its kind to employ industrial sewing of wood elements on an architectural scale. It is part of a successful series of research pavilions which showcase the potential of computational design, simulation and fabrication processes in architecture. The project was designed and realised by students and researchers within a multi-disciplinary team of architects, engineers, biologists, and palaeontologists.

Based on both biological principles as well as material characteristics, the material system was developed as a double-layered structure similar to the secondary growth in sand dollars. The building elements consist of extremely thin wood strips connected with PVC coated polyester membranes. Instrumentalising the anisotropy of wood, these strips are custom-laminated so that the grain direction and thickness corresponds with the differentiated stiffness required to form parts with varying radii. Thus, the initially planar strips can be elastically bent to find the specific shape pre-programmed into their laminate. In this deformed state, the elements are locked in shape by robotic sewing. In this way, 151 geometrically different elements could be produced, which result in a stiff doubly curved shell structure when assembled.

This project explores robotic sewing to not only join the individually bent plywood strips that form a segment, but also to prevent potential delamination. An industrial robot is employed for both assisting during the assembly and bending of the strips that make up the elements, and then locking the pre-assembled segment into shape by sewing them with a stationary industrial sewing machine.

During fabrication the robot first moves the segment through the sewing machine so that the strips are connected. Then it guides the segment trough along its edge to secure the laminate and to attach the PVC covered polyester membrane that forms the lace connection between segments. The robot and the sewing machine are integrated and controlled through custom software. This ensures that there is no lateral movement during needle penetration.

Architects: Institute for Computational Design, Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design, Stuttgart, Germany 
Location: Stuttgart, Germany
Technical info: PVC coated polyester membrane
Picture credits: ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart