Intricate Wood Joinery Ruled the Architecture World This Year

Everybody in architecture seems to be talking about mass timber, but there’s another structural wood trend that is falling under the radar.

Nidhi Upadhyaya Nidhi Upadhyaya


The judging process for Architizer's 12th Annual A+Awards is now away. Subscribe to our Awards Newsletter to receive program updates, and stay tuned for winners announcements later this spring.  

As the world is waking up and realizing that we are in the throes of an environmental crisis, architects are increasingly turning to mass timber as a more sustainable construction method than traditional 20th-century structural approaches, like concrete and steel. Yet, increasingly intricate and innovative light-frame wooden constructions that use increasingly complex joints are also proliferating. The 10th Annual A+Awards winner’s gallery comprises a range of projects with exquisite details, new design thinking and inspiration in all forms and sizes, and many of this year’s winners are experimenting with timber to create sculptural works of architecture.

Wooden construction has been around for millennia and continues to remain popular and relevant even today. Architects are looking at the material for its durability, versatility and potential for reuse. Designers are bringing traditional construction knowledge to create projects that can employ local communities and keep cultural knowledge alive. From steamed timber pieces to reclaimed wood, these architects are making a joint effort to create awareness around finite natural resources.

Botanical Pavilion

By Geoffrey Nees, Kengo Kuma and Associates, Melbourne, Australia

Popular and Jury Winner, 10th Annual A+Awards, Architecture +Art

The pavilion is a collaboration between architect Kengo Kuma and artist Geoffrey Nees. The tessellated circular form ties in with Korean artist Lee Ufan’s painting Dialogue 2017, which is at the end of this walkway. It aims to provide a space for contemplation and connects visitors to the artwork. Pieces of reclaimed wood obtained from Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens are interlocked using Japanese construction techniques that hold the structure up with the help of tension and gravity. The wood used comes from some trees that came in before European settlement as well as those that are just a few decades old. These pieces were selected by tone as opposed to type and age to do away with reductive science methods and align with indigenous ideologies.

Timber Bridge in Gulou Waterfront

By LUO studio, Jiangmen, China

Jury Winner, 10th Annual A+Awards, Architecture +Wood

Images by Jin Weiqi

The Gulou Waterfront in an eco-cultural tourism project that hopes to sustain the traditional fishing practices in Jiangmen. Given that the area contains several small fishing ponds instead of a large water body, they need to be connected by bridges for easy movement of both people and fishing boats. The bridge featured above follows the principles of ancient covered bridges to create more stability and also reduce exposure to sun and rain. Three main arched beams carry the main loads of the bridge and they are then interlocked with several other wooden components to create sub-beams and the two levels. Despite the curved base, the roof of the bridge is a flat rectangle. Layers of metal plates cover the two sides of the bridge, much like armor.

Re-Emerge Pavilion

By Architectural Association, London, United Kingdom

Popular Choice, 10th Annual A+Awards, Architecture +Collaboration

Images by NAARO – Architectural Photography Studio

This pavilion tackles the problem of limited resources that the entire world is grappling with. The team from Architectural Association, in collaboration with Hassell Studio, wanted to emphasize the importance of using reclaimed wood from old construction to promote sustainable design thinking. The reclaimed wood pallets are scored, steam-bent and assembled using lap joints to create this complex organic form. At the end of its display, the pieces of timber were sent back to the recycling facilities it was sourced from to create new opportunities for reuse.

Yuntai Ice Chrysanthemum Display

By LUO studio, Henan, China

Jury Winner, 10th Annual A+Awards, Architecture +Branding

Images by Jin Weiqi

Also part of larger plans to revitalize rural industries, this exhibition space showcases local ice chrysanthemum products. The pandemic caused losses for locals and so, this display had to be designed with a very small budget. To do so, the designers used readily available materials and simple construction techniques. Thin wooden panels are bent and connected, creating an intricate structure that is supported by steel portal frames. The wooden members create canopies that guide circulation and the bases of these arches make room for shelving to display products. Overall, the assembly creates a light cocoon that is bright and inviting. The natural tone of the material contributes to the sensation of warmth found in vernacular living.

AB McDonald Elementary Outdoor Classroom

By Idaho Design Build – University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho

Jury Winner, 10th Annual A+Awards, Architecture +Collaboration

This project is one of the many that was born from the needs that emerged during the pandemic. Design students from the University of Idaho joined hands with the local school district to create a space for outdoor learning and activities. The A.B. McDonald Elementary previously had an outdoor learning area that was removed in 2018 but the pandemic prompted them to rebuild an outdoor space where students could learn in a socially distanced manner.  The canopy structure is designed to be enjoyable and durable to cater to several classes over the coming years.

Small barrel vault forms make up the roof of the structure. Instead of being fully covered, small wooden members create a cage-like pattern. These curved systems are connected to angular supports that join at the base. To match the materiality of the structure, the seating below is constructed using stubs of wood that are shaped into hexagonal forms. These modules have built in metal channels on one side to connect them to each other and create larger seating when needed.


The judging process for Architizer's 12th Annual A+Awards is now away. Subscribe to our Awards Newsletter to receive program updates, and stay tuned for winners announcements later this spring.  

Nidhi Upadhyaya Author: Nidhi Upadhyaya
Nidhi Upadhyaya is an architect and journalist from Mumbai, India. When not working, she can be found binging on DIY videos, experimenting with art mediums or making a dent in her large to-read list. She has previously worked as Features Writer for Elle Decor India, Assistant Editor for India Inc, Art Director for the print edition of Bombay Binge and is currently the Editorial Assistant at TED-Ed in New York.
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