Using nature’s structures in wooden buildings

Tools for designing with forked tree branches

Tree forks are naturally engineered structural connections that work as cantilevers in trees, which means that they have the potential to transfer force very efficiently thanks to their internal fiber structure. If you take a tree fork and slice it down the middle, you see an unbelievable network of fibers that are intertwining to create these often three-dimensional load transfer points in a tree. We’re starting to do the same thing using 3D printing, but we’re nowhere near what nature does in terms of complex fiber orientation and geometry.

Caitlyn Mueller

Forks in tree trunks and branches are exceptionally strong, yet they are rejected in timber construction because they are not straight. MIT researchers have developed an approach that enables architects to use discarded tree forks as load-bearing joints in their structures. Using digital and computational methods, the MIT process distributes a collection of discarded tree forks among the Y-shaped nodes in an architectural design, allocating them so as to maximize the use of the inherent strength in the wood fiber—and reallocating them instantly if the architect changes the design geometry. Computer-driven robotic machining adjusts and marks the forks for easy assembly with straight wooden elements. Using recovered material from felled city trees, the MIT team used this process to create part of a wooden pavilion destined for installation at the site of the felled trees.



Caitlin Mueller Associate Professor

Department of Architecture

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