Digitally Fabricated Single-­skin Plywood Construction: The Castle & ‘Panitecture’

  • YEAR
    Burnham, Richard
    2011 Conference Papers
    Design Education


The Castle assists youth at risk of homelessness by deploying micro-dwellings to
households experiencing spatial and emotional distress. The Castle questions common assumptions
about housing and responds to a demonstrated gap in the accommodation market. The Castle requires
a dwelling that is small, mobile, autonomous and spatially clever. Five prototypes have been designed
and built by architecture students in collaboration with a school alternative workshop and a homeless
shelter. The School of Architecture & Design is responsible for design development, Studentworks is
responsible for component cutting and Youth Futures is responsible for training, deployment and
management. One design has proceeded to serial manufacture by long-term unemployed under an
Australian federal government employment-training program.

The Castle design process is moving towards mass-customisation through the development of a
comprehensive construction grammar, based around CNC router cut plywood components arranged
into an integrated and frameless combination of wall and built-in furniture. The ultimate aim is the
eradication of any independent structural framing elements. Assembly is being tailored specifically for
low-skilled labour through the development of a reliable component jointing regime, a limited material
palette, minimal tools (mallet, screwdriver, glue and paintbrush) and a legible communication of
assembly instructions. The portability of the manufacture process means that the entire
production/training facility can be deployed to regional centres in need of employment training in a
shipping container. Architecture students are involved in the project development in two ways: firstly in
the collaborative development of innovative design solutions in a workshop-based studio environment
and secondly in research and testing on the materials, hardware, jointing and autonomous servicing
that support design.

The application of digitally cut components to a low-skilled workforce has proven successful, although
achieving the required levels of accuracy of connections throughout the component set has proven a
challenge. The Castle team has developed CAD tools to ease the process of joint pattern selection and
ensure high levels of accuracy. The construction grammar is evolving to a point where the rules not
only govern structure and connections but also support patterns of habitation. The goals of the next
stage of project development are to reduce material wastage by designing components for more
efficient sheet ‘nesting’, integrating a more diverse range of applicable sheet materials and continuing
to explore the opportunities of mass-customisation.


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