Digital Timber for Affordable Housing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Architecture


This research explores how engineered timber, already the most sustainable way of building, and a natural material that stores carbon in its cells as it grows, can improve the way we live through the design of sustainable, adaptable and flexible interiors for future living.


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Description This project investigates the development of flexible interiors with engineered timber and digital tools
for affordable housing in London.
The research proposes the apartment as an open space with fixed services, where volumetric spaces
or modules can be added or subtracted in accordance with occupants' needs. The modular structure
is based on systems and components or "kit of parts" of glulam posts and beams, and cross laminated
timber (CLT).
The project has developed digitally fabricated interior partitions with engineered timber considering
two types of flexibility and therefore two types of partitions: short term flexibility, where an apartment
can change daily, and long-term flexibility, where an apartment can change over the course of years.
Extensive experimentation with different kerf patterns, scales and densities and digital cutting tools
allowed the achievement of diverse forms and foldability.
The project demonstrates that digitally fabricated timber has the potential to create customised,
sustainable, low-cost and flexible interior spaces for affordable housing.
The DEP grant has assisted us in successfully developing this research.
Exploitation Route In terms of product development, the team has received support from Cambridge Enterprise, the
commercialisation office of Cambridge University. Cambridge Enterprise is preparing marketing
material that will be released in September. Additionally, they have provided a mentor who is an expert
in product development. The team is also joining the Cambridge Initiative iTeams where MBA students
will work on the development of the product.
Sectors Construction

Description 'Ephemeral' proposes the apartment as an open space with fixed services, where residents can add or subtract moveable walls according to their needs. We investigate "soft flexibility", where residents customise their space organically. The ephemeral walls made with engineered timber and digital tools are affordable, modular, and sustainable, and can be placed anywhere within the apartment. The need for flexibility within housing coincides with the need to involve residents in design. Every human has a right to decent and affordable housing that has its own originality and character.
First Year Of Impact 2023
Sector Construction,Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Cultural


Policy & public services