Hydraulic wooden SmartShell

Architecture shines because it’s the craft of making really large, beautiful and useful objects. For obvious reasons, buildings are designed with safety top of mind. But it’s only rarely that a roof has to deal with maximum load, a façade with maximum wind, or a wall with maximum shear.

So why not engineer a canopy that changes to adapt to these variable forces? This idea must have occurred to the design team at the University of Stuttgart. They teamed up with engineers Bosch Rexroth to create a simple materialised structure which adjusts to suit changing forces.

This wooden ‘SmartShell’ is the result. It’s a super lightweight canopy built with light ash wood. Though it is just 40 mm thick, the roughly square-shaped shell covers a huge 100 m2 and is supported at each of its four corners.

It’s these feet that work the canopy’s structural magic. Its adaptive behaviour is thanks to a custom-built hydraulic drive system. Because the wooden shell is so thin, its shape can be altered by the hydraulics in a variety of ways. It can, for instance, balloon up to increase its load-bearing capacity, flattening out in the case of wind forces, and so on.

Interestingly, the hydraulic system can even change the shell’s geometry to take into account general wear and tear of the wood. This is important as it could lead to finding out more about how to design performance structures using as little material as necessary.

In addition, this – admittedly experimental – structure is important for its potential to change the way that the construction industry thinks about building, forces and materials. The SmartShell is a collaboration between engineers Bosch Rexroth, and the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK) as well as the Institute for System Dynamics (ISYS) at the University of Stuttgart.


  1. u208606 says:

    Very nice design. I am into minimalism in materia and form