Course syllabus

ARK132 Matter, space, structure 2 lp3 VT20 (22.5 hp)
Course is offered by the department of Architecture and Civil Engineering


Studio challenge and project spring 2020


The cleft, the milled, and the one alive

The MATTER SPACE STRUCTURE project ARK 132, spring 2020, is an exploration of three different ways to build in wood. Today, much attention is directed on cross laminated structures, however in our course we intend to widen the perspective on how to use the inherent properties of wood. We will explore the properties and potentials in the historic structures where wood was cleft into very thin boards, we will explore the contemporary digital milling technologies fabricating pieces of complex shapes, and we will explore the living tree on root with all its natural properties still complete. In all three approaches the wood is wet. It is only possible to cleave newly cut green wood, warping happens when wood changes its humidity, and the living wood on root depends on a wet environment to grow.


In historic Scandinavian structures, wood was typically cleft, thus keeping the grain intact over the entire length of the boards. The boards are stronger, can be made thinner than sawn pieces, and will therefore be more flexible in bending. This approach was used in the construction of the famous longboats of the Viking ages. Their complex sweeping curves and tough resistance to the big waves of the North Atlantic was only possible when cleaving the newly cut tree into the thin wooden boards. Furthermore, roof shingles are also cleft. Their complete grain surface of millimetre thin wooden pieces seals the material efficiently from rain and humidity. The Norwegian stave churches are typically covered with shingles, in Borgund the oldest preserved shingles are medieval.



Havhingsten, a reconstruction of a longboat found at Sluldelev by Roskilde


In contemporary wooden structures there is an interesting correlation between the high precision of digital 3D models and wood as a material that warps with shifting humidity. When wood dries it shrinks, and especially across the grains, while the material is more stable along. This is usually regarded as a problem, but in our course we turn the problem into an advantage for the structure. The high precision in the 3D model makes it possible to measure deflections, consequently, the strain in the material can be predicted. When shape of the structure is designed in an efficient way these forces can then be “combed” to counteract the forces from expected loads. A good example is the Urbach Tower to the east of Stuttgart. The tower is made of “shelf-forming” laminated wooden panels where the intentional warping is driven by the natural shrinkage of the wood when drying. The project was designed in collaboration between Stuttgart University, the Swiss wood manufacturing company Blumer Lehmann, and other specialist.


Urbach Tower.jpg

Urbach Tower, constructed for the Remstal Gartenschau 2019


The tree is full of knowledge we hardly understand. In the resent years several books have been published about the so called “intelligence” of forests where the individual trees live as integrated organisms in a biotope of great complexity. Noticeable is Peter Wohlleben’s bestseller “The Secret Lives of Trees” in which he describes how trees communicate and adjust to changing conditions, qualities we usually associate with animals. Trees grow naturally pre-tensioned, their branches are efficient joints, and they fight insects and fungus by many different means. Imagine if we could build architecture like the living root bridges. Simple suspension bridges formed of living plant roots are found in the Northeast Indian state of Meghalay and at Jembatan akar on Sumatra, in  Indonesia.


Root bridge.jpgLiving root bridge in the Northeast Indian state of Meghalay


Three shelters along the waterways of Gothenburg

The design project takes its point of departure from the need for shelters. In our modern society the level of stress is high and many people need an occasional “time-out”. The program of our project suggests that a number of shelters will be constructed along the waterways of Gothenburg, to function as refuges, secluded cabins where people on their own initiative can find a peace of mind without becoming patients in the health industry.

The American writer Henry David Thoreau wrote his book “Walden, or Life in the Woods”, that was published in 1854. The book is a vivid account of the time that the writer evaded his debt to the local tax office moving to a small cabin at Walden Pond just outside his home in Concord,  Massachusetts. The book is one of the most influential in American literature and will be used in our project as reference on the social issues.

In the project you will find a location for your shelter along one of the waterways in Gothenburg, a secluded place, yet in the middle of the city. The shelter must be exposed to the water and should be designed for providing just the most basic needs. It is assumed that an occupant will only occupy the shelter for a few weeks at the most.

The emphasis will be on the structural design of the shelter and how the structure is integrated in the architectural space. You will chose one of the three structural themes, cleft wood, milled wood and living wood, concentrating on the design of two crucial details. Additionally you will conduct an exploration of the forces in the structural design and investigate ways to represent the different phenomenon you encounter.


The project in brief

We imagine the architecture as an urban hermitage, a human shelter, an active recess for contemplation and water exercise along, above, or within the river. Intended as a freeform structure, the hermitage will be an empathic space mainly build from wood, and performing as a lucid public furniture in the city.

We will design three alternative design proposals:
1. a vortex of flank-milled glulam
2. a boat hull of woven cleft wood
3. a glade of growing trees in the wood

MATTER  SPACE  STRUCTURE  design approach

We apply an iterative and artistic design methodology - do first think then - investigating the fleeting phenomenon and forces in hybrid representations and experimental practices.

We always design in the material aiming at empathic spaces for people, researching conceptual structures.

In the matter space structure studio courses we study the progression from the large scale to the small in representations that covers all scales.


Studio team

Morten Lund,
Course Leader
Emil Adiels, 
Jonas Carlsson,
Jens Olsson,                                              
Peter Christensson,
Karl-Gunnar Olsson,




Schedule_ARK132 10 feb Update-01.png


Thoreau, Henry David, Walden; or, Life in the Woods,  Boston 1854.



The project is organised as a sequence of six iterations following the general introduction:

  1. A contextual survey module where you will introduce three potential sites in the format of a 5 minute mobile-telephone-film with as little post-editing as possible. Group work.
  2. A conceptual sketch module designing a rough outline of three alternative concepts and investigating the complex context of three possible locations. Group work.
  3. A design module with prototypes of the building details of the design proposal and explorations of the phenomenon relevant to your design. Individual work within reference groups.
  4. A design module where the prototypes are integrated in a “loose fit” design proposal. Individual work within reference groups.
  5. A narrative module where the focus is on how the project communicates its intention and ideas. Individual work within reference groups.
  6. The concluding project portfolio. Individual work.

Each iterative module is organised as an assignment, concluded with a critique.

The content and format of each assignment submission will be specified at the introductions of the assignments.

Students will work in groups of four in the two initial modules. In the following iteration modules students will work individually, however within a reference group.

Students are expected to show an active presence in the studio.

Following the two initial modules, the students will work individually, however within the reference groups.

The combination of an active presence and individual work within the context of a group is an important quality of the studio culture.

Each module is concluded with a critique. The presentations for the critiques shall be uploaded to Canvas before 18:00 on the following day.

Every week the reference groups will conduct a student only critique where you will critically scrutinise your group member's proposals and methodologies. Notes from the student only critiques shall be uploaded the same day before 18:00 on Canvas. Furthermore we expect that each group will conclude every workday with a brief summary of the individual work produced that day and if possible with a feedback from the group. Document the summary in an Inex notebook that will function as logbook for the group. We will use the logbook at the teacher tutorials.

In the initial introduction and following tutorials/seminars students will be introduced to the three different approaches relevant to your design of building in wood.

Students will work parallel with an exploration of representing the forces in the structures you design and the phenomenon that will impact your proposal. The format is roughly the same as how a thesis project is conducted with a design proposal presented on boards and in models and explorations presented in a booklet.

In the course, students will be introduced to a conceptual design methodology applying an explorative iterative process. In the first module students will operate with three design alternatives, narrowing down the option to one in the following iterations.

Students will root their project sin a context of a chosen site and an outline of one of your initial design proposals. The context contributes with its diverse layers to the complexity to the project while the design concept holds the project together.

The design proposals will be two structural details that will be presented in a scale between 1:10 and 1:1. Designing architecture of the little scale the key objective of the course.

Additionally, the explorations of forces and phenomenon is of equal importance. Students will critically develop adequate representations in drawing and models to be communicated in a booklet.

From the early modules, students will work in the format of their final presentation  and decide the appropriate layout, style, and  scale from the content of the design proposal and explorations.

In each module students will conduct their design with specified goal of the properties to be achieved with your design proposal, goals that students are able to redefine and even change during the design process.

The project will be concluded with a narrative, which is an introduction to the booklets that accompany the design projects in the master program.

In the project portfolio students will include a selection of material, documentation of the design process and with their own reflections of the result and methodology applied. The work presented for each of the six modules, including the  project portfolio, must be uploaded as an requirement for an approved grade. Furthermore, an active participation in the studio including documentations of the student tutorials are required as well.

Growing wood smaller.jpg

Ratatosk by Helen and Hard in the V&A Museum 2009


Application and collaboration

We collaborate with the Wood and Technology Fair at the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre where we will exhibit our design proposals from September 8 to September 11, 2020, and where we might build one, even two or maybe three of our structures transformed as the public stages of the fair.

Fair small.jpg

Chalmers' stage presented by its designers Johanna, Alexander, and Mattias, at the Wood  and  Technology fair 2018



The course aims to give a basic knowledge and understanding and of an artistic and iterative design methodology in general with the focus on architecture of the little scale and detailing of structural elements.

In particular the course aims to give an understanding of the various properties of materials applied in architecture through explorations of relevant phenomenon and testing of prototypes produced for the purpose.

Furthermore, the course emphasises the abilities critically to reflect and evaluate the quality of the design proposals and logically to assess the methodology used in the process by favouring a variety of interactive critiques, regular student tutorials, and a comprehensive reflection in the project portfolio.

Finally, the course will be concluded as an architectural synthesis. The synthesis will materialise in the design proposals, represented by physical and digital models as well as in drawings.

The synthesis will also be in the form of a booklet, documenting the explorations of phenomenon and testing of prototypes directed by a sharp hypothesis and focused by a well-defined discourse that even addresses the complexity of the context, the potential strategies for sustainability, and the possible contribution to society.


Learning objectives

Students are expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of artistic and iterative design methodologies with the fundamental interplay of methods, theory, and tools. In particular, students should  demonstrate properties of chosen materials, understood through an architectural practice both in the historical and contemporary context. Furthermore, students should demonstrate the complexity of a chosen context, spanning from the physical contours of place to its social, cultural and historical setting. The students should also demonstrate the necessity of an intended concept that steers the architectural idea throughout the entire design process.

Students are expected to exhibit the necessary skills and abilities to produce the architectural representations required like digital and physical models, drawings and films, text and diagrams, and others. This  includes mastering a wide variety of architectural representation techniques, not only to advance a concept into a proper design proposal, but also to visualise the phenomenon and forces.

Students are expected to express how their design proposals and explorations are based on a clear set of values and approaches from the social implications behind the project  to the sustainable consequences of a chosen material. The students should explicitly express their values and approaches behind their preconditioned evaluation criteria that are essential to the  iterative methodology as well as their own reflections within the project portfolio.



The learning outcome of the student will be examined at the final project critique as well as the review of the project portfolio in the very end of the course.

In the final critique the student will display a comprehensive board with drawings, diagrams, text, illustrations and model photos along with a display of the physical models generated during the design iterations and a optional slide presentation. Both manual and digital techniques are examined.

A jury that includes the examinator, the tutors, and an invited external juror examines the student after the presentation. The examination begins with a question round followed by comments.

The execution of the boards and models show immediately the student's abilities and skills. During the closer scrutiny of the material and subsequent examination the student's knowledge and understanding is demonstrated along with the methodological approach and value based decisions.

The examination has the character of a conversation where the student responds with an open mind. During the dialogue the student ground the project in the academic/professional discourse using quotes from written texts as well examples from architectural design projects.

In the portfolio review the student will present a personal reflection of the architectural intention, the design process and the personal reflection of the quality achieved by the proposal.  Especially in the portfolio review the student's approaches and values are recognized.


Changes since last course round

Based on the evaluation of the last course round, the following changes are made:

  • A more detailed course schedule is presented from the course start
  • A stronger emphasis are put on design and explorations of phenomena and forces
  • Students only tutorials are formalized and scheduled


Link to the overall study plan on Studieportalen.

Study plan

Course summary:

Date Details Due