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Mass Timber Supporting Groundbreaking Architectural Design: Wisdome Stockholm

Mass Timber Supporting Groundbreaking Architectural Design: Wisdome Stockholm

By Luke Carothers

Located in Stockholm, the Wisdome is a groundbreaking structure that pushes the boundaries of wooden architectural design.  The project transformed a 1,325 square meter space within the courtyard at Sweden’s National Museum of Science & Technology to serve as a center for lifelong learning and civic engagement.  The space represents a new scientific experiential arena–encompassing a wooden architectural design to create a massive arch-shaped room.

The concept for the Wisdome began in 2019 with a design for a free form timber grid structure constructed of five crossing layers with a maximum length of 47-meters.  According to Jessika Szyber, Business Development Manager for Stora Enso, this unique wooden structural design necessitated the use of innovative construction methods such as bending and twisting laminated veneer lumber beams.  Szyber and Stora Enso have been involved in the project since its inception–providing lumber materials and working closely with the design and construction of the structure.  The wood used in the LVL (laminated veneer lumber) and CLT (cross-laminated timber) for the structural elements was sourced from sustainably managed, certified forests in Sweden and Finland, storing a total of 1,178-tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Wisdom Stockholm’s groundbreaking design features a checkerboard-construction roof composed of 25 layers of 31-mm thick beams, which utilizes 20-km of precision-shaped  LVL beams.  These beams were precisely assembled on-site, achieving a remarkable margin of error of less than 1-mm.   To create the “double curved” lumber beams that would support the structure, Stora Enso’s team first produced a flat material using spruce lumber, which was then twisted to create the necessary freeform shape.  These unique wooden beams are held in place by specialized wooden dowels and screws to create the structure’s shell.  Szyber points out that, while similar structures exist made of steel or glue laminate, the decision to use LVL makes it the first-of-its-kind. The structure’s dome is composed of 277 unique triangles made from CLT produced at Stora Enso’s Gruvon site in Sweden.

Szyber notes the particular challenges of creating a structure that hasn’t been made before, pointing out that the team had to rely on “innovative approaches from design to fabrication to assembly.  Adding an additional challenge to the project, the bending and twisting of the LVL timber structural beams was done on-site.  With timber materials being bent on site, the teams had to not only ensure the beams retained their structural integrity but also that the precut holes lined up after the material changed shape.  To overcome this challenge, the teams working on the project turned to technology–specifically parametric planning and 3D mapping to support the roof’s construction.  These tools were particularly useful in creating accurate digital representations of the ongoing work, which, according to Szyber, proved crucial in ensuring the successful assembly of the structure’s grid shell.  

To successfully construct the Wisdome’s structure, the final parametric model had almost 11,000 components.  The 24 pillars surrounding the Wisdome’s structure are made from a hybrid material of steel and LVL.  Szyber says that early considerations were to use concrete for the pillars, but the team opted to test a new design which didn’t exist at the time.  The team designed large re-glued LVL pillars reinforced by steel components.

The innovative use of mass timber products to construct the Wisdome represents a step towards sustainability in both material and efficiency.  Sustainability sourced mass timber materials–like those sourced from Sweden and Finland for this project–represent a renewable option over materials like concrete or steel.  Additionally, Szyber points out that the efficiency with which mass timber projects are constructed represents another crucial step in moving towards a more sustainable industry.  Even relatively complex projects, such as the Wisdome, can be constructed efficiently due to fabrication and on-site assembly.  This efficient, quick assembly process reduces waste and energy consumption by, among other things, reducing a project’s overall timeline.  

For the Wisdome project, the total construction time was one year and ten months.  Of this time, the installation of the dome’s superstructure, which contained more than 300 separate pieces, took only four weeks.  Furthermore, the time to construct the surrounding pillars and the grid shell roof was around 13 weeks.  Szyber points out that mass timber projects, if planned well, often have shorter project times and this improves the return of investment (ROI). Furthermore, for the Wisdome, the delivery of mass timber materials as flat panels resulted in having to use fewer trucks to transport materials to the site while also producing almost no material waste.  By handling materials in the factory beforehand, less energy was required to dry them on-site and all this adds on the sustainable aspect in the project.

Wisdome Stockholm officially opened to the public in December of 2023.  Inside the unique architectural structure and deeper within the dome, museum visitors are completely surrounded by 3D projections–sourced from six laser projectors in 8K resolution.  This stunning blend of immersive technology and daring architectural design allows visitors to explore open worlds.