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Circular Chromatics: Biomaterial Invention through Research-Build

Architecture - Material Exploration - Sustainable Design - Biomaterial Creation

As a group of 14, my peers and I developed a large-scale project that was installed at Morven Farms in Charlottesville. As the scale and immediacy of the climate crisis becomes ever more apparent, so does the need to develop sustainable building systems that radically rethink the materials with which the built environment is constructed. This project shifts the emphasis of a traditional design-build course from program and client to material invention and experimental fabrication: a new research-build model. We designed and constructed an experimental biomaterial pavilion piloting three novel building systems: a doublelayered woven bamboo wall with CNC-milled joinery and a bent greenwood canopy, both sourced from campus landscaping waste, and a façade of custom paper pulp shingles made with campus paper and wood waste. The project responds to, frames, and choreographs a specific experience on site, but its primary goal is to empower students to develop and pilot carbon-sequestering circular construction techniques by working with local material streams. Nearly the entire structure is biodegradable and is disassembled and composted at end of life.

The system provides the overall form and structure. Digitally designed and fabricated plywood joints serve several functions: connecting inner/outer surfaces, providing shear resistance, delineating door/window openings, and determining form/thickness. Joints are strategically deployed to eliminate formwork: the wall is self-forming during assembly. Students source material from a bamboo grove on site, split poles into thin strips, and weave large flat panels that are then brought to site for assembly.


The structure is clad in custom shingles that produce visual weight, drawing visitors and creating a sense of interiority. Students developed a method for casting waste paper and woodchips generated on campus without adhesives using a paper-making technique: paper, woodchips, flour, milk paint and water are blended into a homogeneous pulp. The pulp is spread onto canvas, pressed with a 3D printed mold to create texture, and hung to dry. Shingles are coated in soy wax to improve weather resistance.

A thin bent greenwood canopy tops off the pavilion, made of undulating strips standing on edge that provide shade and patterned light within. A bandsaw sawmill is used to cut 1/4” thick pine boards. A 1:1 template is printed to ensure accurate curving. The wet
greenwood has enough flexibility that steaming proved unnecessary. The pine strips are curved over the templates with CMU weights. The wood is dried in the sun for several days, at which point it holds its shape and is assembled with pop rivets.

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