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Digital timber for affordable housing: An exploration into flexible spaces



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Gatoo Jimenez de Laiglesia, Ana 


Engineered timber is the most ecological of the major construction materials acting as a carbon sink in our urban centres. After the pandemic, flexibility of interior spaces has become crucial with social, economic, and environmental benefits. With mass customization, the growth of digital factories for timber products and the possibilities of open-source designs, interior walls can come alive as customisable, sustainable, and creative.

This thesis shows how design trends and needs are moving towards affordability, sustainability, and flexibility, envisioning a future where housing is designed as an unfinished product where residents can develop the spaces they inhabit, and these can be altered throughout a lifetime.

The research proposes the apartment as an empty space with fixed services based on the open building. Two flexibilities are explored: long-term flexibility, where an apartment changes throughout a lifetime, and short-term flexibility, where an apartment can change daily. By bringing together the design of open buildings, engineered timber with digital tools, flexibility, and participatory design for council housing in London at an affordable rent. This interdisciplinary research develops a new system of flexible partitions that are sustainable and affordable and provide residents with the freedom to decide on the design of their interior spaces.

This thesis undertakes several spatial explorations based on the London Plan for long-term flexibility. The modular structure is based on systems and components, or “kits of parts”, of glulam posts, beams, and cross-laminated timber (CLT). For short-term flexibility, extensive testing was undertaken to study the flexibility of timber through kerf patterns. Flexible walls with engineered timber manufactured with digital tools have been developed. These walls are a modular kit of parts, designed to be disassembled, easy to fabricate, affordable and can be placed anywhere within an apartment.

This thesis shows that digitally fabricated timber has the potential to create customisable and flexible interior spaces for affordable housing in London.





Ramage, Michael


Affordable housing, Digital manufacturing, Engineered timber, Flexible spaces, Interior design, Interior partitions, Kerfing, Participatory design


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Arts and Humanities Research Council (2279982)
AHRC Cambridge Trust Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership