Stunning Buildings With Curved Timber

Ben Law
Thursday, 16th October 2014

Ben Law explains how using natural curves in timber creates a stronger building frame, and also reveals natures beautiful organic and unique design.

Last month I was discussing adding value and making use of wind blown larch trees; most of the trees I was making use of were straight grown. In amongst the wind blown trees were a number of curved larch trees. The curve is usually formed through leaning out to reach the light as they were growing.

To me these trees offer an opportunity to make use of the tension and strength that has grown in the curve. Having snedded up the tree (removed any side branches), I then measure the curve. Knowing the exact profile of the curve, I can then design a structure around that profile.

This has many advantages because I don't have to scarf joint (joining to seperate pieces together, usually because pieces aren't long enough) pieces of wood together to form the curve of the designed structure, as I already have the exact curve I am looking for. The curve will be stronger for having grown to the shape I want and the grain of the wood will follow the profile of the curve. This is designing from the local resource as a starting point.

These curved trees can be used in all sorts of buildings, but they lend themselves to outside structures like studios, outdoor kitchens and tree houses. In these structures it is often possible to keep the curve exposed and show the true nature of the tree.

Here are two examples of using curved larch trees, the first is a garden studio where the curved larch tree forms the ridge pole of the building. Its shape allows the rest of the structure to form around it. The shingle roof then cascades down the curve like reptilian scales. 

To form this curve out of separate pieces of wood is possible but nature’s shape is leading the design here, and the curved pole is visible from inside the building. The second structure is designed into a corner of a natural swimming pond, where the corner needed softening after excavating and leveling the pond.

The curved larch pole directs the design and although not symmetrical, it offers opportunities to work from its natural shape.

A second smaller not dissimilar curve is used at the back of the pond to take the roof of the structure to merge with the ground.

This is then covered with small diameter chestnut coppice to follow the curve and create a surface for a sedum roof.

These curved structures lend themselves to natural green roofs and from many angles the structure disappears, it is just a small hill covered in bees enjoying the sedum flowers.

Straight timber is more adaptable, we can build with it in the round or saw it into dimensional timber, but there is a place for nature’s curved poles and the results have a different aesthetic as the shape of the tree leads the design.

Further resources

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Turning fallen timber into a treehouse

Ben Law's Roundwood Timber Framing (eBook and DVD available)

How to build a gypsy caravan from recycled materials

Coppicing, curved stems and squirrel stew

Watch: A woodland natural swimming pool


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