Design Objects

Interlocking Particles


Sculpture Aalto University Finland


The sculpture is part of a research that explores the basic principles and qualities as well as potential applications of Interlocking Particle Structures (IPS) in the fields of architecture and design. The notion of IPS refers to aggregates respectively porous agglomerates of interlocking plate-shaped elements. They can also be described as particle systems with structural qualities, whereupon the term structural stands for both load-bearing and space-generating capacities. As such, IPS can be seen as an attempt to combine the generative behaviour of particle systems with the tectonic exploration of material systems.


The sculpture functions as a demonstrator and is composed of six square birch plywood panels with an edge length of 145 cm and a thickness of 27 mm. Its design is based on an orthogonal spatial array of originally 18 panels. Whereas all panels have the same dimensions, they form three different groups, each of which is either aligned with the xy, xz or the yz plane. The individual panels of these three groups intersect with each other. The intersection depth corresponds to approximately one fifth of the panels’ edge length. The initially orthogonal alignment is then transformed by applying three consecutive rotations of 15° about the x, y and z axis of the panels’ local coordinate systems. From this transformed configuration, a group of six panels was selected for the demonstrator.


The angled cuts and their fabrication play an important role for the assembly and stability of the demonstrator, especially with regard to the depth of interlocking of two panels. Milling procedures employ cylindrical cutting bits, which consequently results in chamfered corners. This is problematic, as the final interlocking position between two panels cannot be determined in a precise way. Ideally, two panels would be interlocked in a way, that they have one common planar contact surface.


The research on IPS shows that contemporary industrial wood products are opening up new possibilities in construction due to their dimensions and improved structural capacity. Despite its relatively moderate size, the demonstrator possesses a number of spatial and tectonic qualities that are commonly not associated with timber construction. The flexibility of the connections provides for a formal richness and variety that requires additional architectural and engineering research.


Design: Markus Hudert
Structure: Jürgen Scholte-Wassink, Frankfurt, Germany
Woodwork: NC Machining/Processing Workshop, Aalto University, Finland