Chicago Architecture Biennial 2023

November 1, 2023 /

James R. Thompson Center, Chicago, USA

HygroShell exhibited in the James R. Thompson Center

This is a Rehearsal – the title of CAB 5 – explores how contemporary environmental, political, and economic issues are shared across national boundaries but are addressed differently around the world through art, architecture, infrastructure, and civic participation. CAB 5 builds on and expands Floating Museum’s ongoing work, including site-responsive art and design projects and public programs, to explore divergent interpretations of infrastructure, history, and the role of aesthetics as a mode for expanding how we frame the relationship between our environments and ourselves. Amongst the sites of the exhibition is the James R. Thompson Center from 1985. Hailed as one of Chicago’s postmodern architectural marvels, the Helmut Jahn-designed building will open to the public for the duration of the biennial.

HygroShell” investigates a first-of-its-kind, self-shaping timber building system, heralding new material cultures in architecture. Utilizing novel computational methods to access timber’s inherent shape changing properties, “HygroShell” showcases the design, engineering, and production of a full-scale, long-spanning, lightweight shell made from flat-packed components curved in situ. Each component contains architectural, structural, and kinetic characteristics embedded into its flat state, actuating on site to produce a curved, shingle-clad, interlocked geometry.

The result is a delicately arced canopy spanning ten meters while only twenty-eight millimeters thin. Diverging from typical structural typologies, the roof’s single-curved design unlocks new potentials for resource saving, thin shell construction with bio-based materials. “HygroShell” explores an alternative approach to future-proof architecture using the fundamental properties of timber as an in situ shaping mechanism, structural driver, and design foundation. Through this computationally enabled understanding of natural materials, it is possible to achieve deeper architectural integration and ecological effectiveness in both material and form, and to explore a future-proof material culture in architecture that is both resource effective and expressive. 

“HygroShell” was developed as a research pavilion within the educational context of the international and interdisciplinary ITECH Master’s program led by Achim Menges and Jan Knippers, and highlights the importance and potentials of a cross-disciplinary, diverse research and teaching environment.

Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB5)


Laura Kiesewetter, Research Associate / Doctoral Candidate

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