School of Design

Postgraduate research student profiles


Tristan Morgan

Phone: (+61 4) 3991 6173

Start date

May 2011

Submission date

Feb 2016

Tristan Morgan


Designing Non-Standard Non-Residential Timber Buildings for Australia Using Computational Design Processes


Contemporary international architectural projects illustrate the capacity for timber to be used as a structural material in non-standard non-structural architecture. However, in Australia, timber is generally regarded as unsuitable for such applications due to a variety of reason, including lack of confidence, lack of knowledge, and perceived lack of performance both environmentally and structurally. It is increasingly common for non-standard non-residential architecture to at some stage be designed using digital tools, and in particular computational design tools that are developed and marketed towards architectural designers. These tools enable the designer to explore geometry through algorithms, and to also establish parametric and generative relationships between an assortment of constraints and data. In fact, the specific software combination of Rhinoceros 3D and Grasshopper provide the designer with the ability to integrate form-finding, algorithmic design, emergent behaviours, structural analysis, physics simulation, environmental and energy simulation, evolutionary algorithms, programming, and fabrication or CAD/CAM simulation and optimisation within a single interface. This more-or-less open system is currently being used to develop complex non-standard architectures where material properties are cooperative partners in the design process. Modern computers give the designer access to computational power that is able to process complex material data, such as that immanent in natural materials such as timber. The use of these design methods, where timber’s capacities, tendencies, and properties, can be exploited within the computational model in such a way that intensifies the designer’s relationship with the material. Through the computational design environment the designer can see, through a process of direct visual feedback, the relationship between material, form, and structure, and in doing so develop confidence in the capacity for timber to be used as a structural element in non-standard non-residential architecture within Australia.

Why my research is important

Existing research has explored, separately, the use of timber properties as a form generator, structural analysis as a form optimiser, genetic algorithms as form finder, CNC fabrication for mass-customisation, timber as a structural material in non-standard architecture, and materialist theory as the framework for such practice. The combination of these processes within one project, from start to finish, at the scale of a large, permanent and programatically complex building, however, has not been sufficiently explored, and in particular the effect of the specific theoretical frame as used within practice, beyond research projects, has been explored little except as post-design and construction critique. Is it possible that the engagement with all of these factors during the design process, with the designer fully cognisant of them, might open up greater design opportunities for architectural expression and design?


  • FWPAL Post-Graduate Research Scholarship 2011 - 2014

South Hedland Shade Structure