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Architects turn waste wood into a 3D-printed cabin in upstate New York

A stunning cabin in upstate New York is making waves thanks to groundbreaking technology that allowed it to be 3D-printed with wood waste. Headed by architects Leslie Lok and Sasa Zivkovic, HANNAH was able to repurpose wood from ash trees damaged by an invasive beetle species to build the Ashen Cabin, a modern, tiny cabin completely constructed using 3D-printing of timber and concrete.

Located in Ithaca, New York, the innovative cabin definitely stands out for its distinct shape. Ash wood cladding connects it to the lush woodland setting, while whimsical features, such as curved wood paneling and thick, triangular concrete pillars, create a futuristic, almost spaceship-like, feel. The prominent use of ash wood was specifically chosen to make use of damaged ash wood trees.

Tunneling into the trees’ bark to lay eggs, the dreaded Emerald Ash Borer is a major threat to America’s ash tree population. In their wake, these ruthless beetles leave 8.7 billion trees across the country so damaged that they cannot even be used by sawmills as lumber. Specifically, nearly one in 10 ash trees in New York state are destroyed by the pesky insects.

But now, working with innovative design methods, HANNAH has discovered a remedy that can’t quite protect the trees from their beetle nemesis but enables a sustainable way to use the waste wood. Zivkovic explained, “Infested ash trees are a very specific form of ‘waste material’ and our inability to contain the blight has made them so abundant that we can — and should — develop strategies to use them as a material resource.”

To begin the project, the firm decided on a two-tier process, first building a robotic platform that was specifically designed for processing the irregular ash trees and a separate system for using 3D-printed concrete. The first step was repurposing a six-axis robot arm found on eBay to cut pre-shaped planks that fit together like puzzle pieces. The repurposed robot allowed the designers to work with the otherwise worthless wood waste.

The second step involved creating a solid, eco-friendly base for the cabin. Again going with a highly innovative processing strategy, the team manufactured nine interlocking, 3D-printed concrete segments that were used to form the footing, cabin floor, chimney and interior fixtures. This method avoided the need to build a large frame and base for the cabin. Using the minimum amount of concrete possible, the designers were able to reduce the project’s overall footprint while providing a strong, resilient base. With the durable concrete base and unique shaping of the wood volume, the cabin shows just how fun and functional sustainable architecture can be.

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