Bendy, eco-friendly wooden walls were inspired by guitar curves

Bendable wood could be used to rearrange home walls whenever you want.
Ephemeral exhibit at London Design Biennale
'Kerfing,' a technique that allows for wood to bend without breaking, could form rearrangeable home walls. University of Cambridge

Large home renovation projects often require demolishing or drastically altering walls—processes that can be expensive, time-consuming, and wasteful.  In 2018, for example, the EPA estimated that the US generated almost 600 million tons of construction and demolition debris.

But what if your house was built to account for any future alterations and rearrangements you might one day want? A team of architects and researchers at University of Cambridge recently asked that very question, and engineered a creative, stunning solution—or, technically speaking, a multitude of possible solutions.

[Related: Dirty diapers could be recycled into cheap, sturdy concrete.]

As part of London Somerset House’s London Design Biennale, researchers at Cambridge’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation alongside PLP Architecture have unveiled Ephemeral, a conceptual showcase of specialized, rearrangeable partition walls focusing on adaptability, affordability, and sustainability. Unlike a standard building’s rigid structuring, Ephemeral’s engineered timber can be moved as needed to create entirely new rooms of different sizes and shapes.

According to project lead Ana Gatóo, Ephemeral’s unique, minimalist designs were partially inspired by self-assembly and modular furniture, alongside curved wooden instruments like the guitar. The recognizable curve of traditional acoustic guitars is often a result of “kerfing,” a process in which carefully spaced notches are cut into the wood to allow for malleability without the risk of breakage. By employing that same method to walling, Gatóo’s team found that they could create a wide array of design options for homes and offices.

Ephemeral London architectural showcase room
Credit: University of Cambridge

The technique can be built into new constructions’ floor plans, or even retrofitted into existing spaces to provide virtually countless options. For example, people could rearrange their home floor plans once children move out, adapt a space to better meet physical needs as they age, or simply just shake things up for a change of pace.

[Related: The ability for cities to survive depends on smart, sustainable architecture.]

Because of the simplicity and affordability, the team’s techniques on display with Ephemeral show immense promise as an eco-friendly housing solution for countries in need—researchers reportedly are already talking to developers in India, and hope to collaborate with other partners elsewhere in the future. “I wanted to merge making housing more affordable and social with technical innovation and sustainability,” Gatóo said in a statement. “This is what our cities of the future need—caring for people and the environment at the same time.”

Perhaps a team up with the people making diaper concrete is in order.