Tectonic Use of Reclaimed Timber

Design Principles for Turning Scrap into Architecture


  • Satu Huuhka Tampere University of Technology, School of Architecture


architectural design, cascading, circular economy, recycling, reuse, salvaged wood


Increasing the use of timber has been proposed as one step towards more sustainable architecture and construction. Timber's renewability and the capability to store carbon have dominated this discussion. At the same time, viewpoints related to material efficiency and recycling, equally important aspects to sustainability, have been neglected. Unfortunately, recycling wood can be challenging, and countries that already build a lot with timber tend to rely on incineration at the end of the life cycle. Reusing wood could, however, save emissions from manufacturing new timber and disposing of demolished timber and prolong the time the carbon stays sequestered. Embedded in new architectural ensembles, salvaged components could also transmit the past to the contemporary viewer and thus, result in more evocative architecture.

Barriers preventing reuse in general have been documented in literature, but few solutions have been proposed. The obstacles include, among other things, inconsistent quality and quantity, difficulty of dimensional coordination and negative perception, which are all issues connected to design. This paper employs literature review and design simulation in addressing the challenges of architectural design from reclaimed timber. With the help of literature, the tectonic nature of reclaimed wood material is elaborated in more detail. The design simulation was conducted during a special timber architecture course with the help of 36 students, whose design projects form the empirical research material of the paper. Engaging in a discussion with literature and the research material, the study results in recognizing how reclaimed timber essentially differs from virgin timber and proposes ten design principles for managing the inconsistencies associated with the salvaged material.

The presented discussion demonstrates that reclaimed materials should be considered as materials of their own; they should not be expected to simply comply with conventional construction methods and design practices. Since the salvaged components already exist, their architectural and structural design cannot be differentiated from each other. Therefore, tectonic expression endogenous to reclaimed materials needs to be developed in order to actuate their more widespread reuse. Whereas historical and vernacular construction methods withhold many insights for architectural design from reclaimed timber, contemporary computer-aided design offers novel tools for the execution of these ideas. The remarks of the paper are not only valid in Western contexts, but may be highly relevant for architects working in developing countries.




How to Cite

Huuhka, S. (2018). Tectonic Use of Reclaimed Timber: Design Principles for Turning Scrap into Architecture. Architectural Research in Finland, 2(1), 130–151. Retrieved from https://journal.fi/architecturalresearchfinland/article/view/73183