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Clemson architecture team develops a new way to build

A team of Clemson architecture students assemble Indigo Pine East, the first structure built using the sim[PLY] construction method. Off-the-shelf plywood is cut by CNC routers into interlocking tab-and-slot pieces that fit together to form a solid, tight frame. With the sim[PLY] method, digital cut files can be emailed to a CNC fabricator, then shipped flat-packed to the construction site, ready to be assembled by hand by unskilled laborers.

Clemson University’s School of Architecture is developing an innovative new construction method that is gaining worldwide attention for its potential market impact in rapid, low-tech sustainable housing.

Using the sim[PLY] Framing System, “With a click of the button, someone could order a custom-cut, flat-packed home online and construct it by hand with the help of their friends and neighbors in a matter of days,” said Kate Schwennsen, professor and director of the School of Architecture.

One of the sim[PLY] Framing System’s innovative advantages is its revolutionary interlocking tab-and-slot connection system (patent pending). Assembly is intuitive and easy; so buildings come together much like a 3D puzzle, using no nails, just steel zip ties and some screws. This means buildings can be disassembled just as easily, without causing structural damage.

“sim[PLY] is faster, safer, easier and more energy-efficient than traditional construction with power tools,” Schwennsen said.

sim[PLY] offers a rapid, low-tech construction solution with a profound reduction in a building’s total carbon footprint. Here’s how:

  • sim[PLY] uses locally sourced plywood and computer numeric control (CNC) fabrication.
  • Construction plans are digital and can be emailed anywhere there is a CNC controller.
  • Components can be pre-cut using off-the-shelf materials, pre-measured and flat-packed, requiring less transport space and smaller vehicles versus other forms of prefabricated structures.
  • Cut pieces lock into place on site with no power-operated tools or heavy equipment required.

sim[PLY]’s evolving impact:

  • A national Department of Defense (DOD) building contractor has looked at sim[PLY] for Rapidly Deployable Housing applications, such as for use in temporary military housing. sim[PLY] is being considered as a potentially cost-saving opportunity to build better structures faster, safer and using less energy on the jobsite.
  • sim[PLY]­ ’s built-in ease of construction makes it an ideal framing model for various types of do-it-yourself housing. Think: tiny homes. To explore this popular housing trend, Clemson’s architectural students have designed an energy efficient sim[PLY] tiny home prototype that could be structurally framed in just one day’s time.
  • Timber is one of South Carolina’s most important cash crops, with an economic impact of $20 billion, according to the Forestry Association of South Carolina. sim[PLY]’s use of plywood would create both a positive economic and environmental impact here at home. Beyond causing a greater demand for timber, wide acceptance of the sim[PLY] process would mean a more diverse and robust use of forest resources; plywood manufacturing, unlike that of lumber, makes use of older, more mature trees.
  • Architectural communities in Italy, Austria and Germany – countries considered to be worldwide leaders in wood construction and sustainable building – have expressed interest in sim[PLY]. Overseas and in the U.S., sim[PLY]’s sustainable performance benefits are compelling.

The sim[PLY] rafter assembly for a CropStop community kitchen.
Image Credit: Clemson University School of Architecture

An example of a sim[PLY] structure in use is the CropStop community kitchen on Lois Avenue in Greenville. The building makes it possible for crop owners to better process their harvests to meet local demand for fresh farm-to-table foods. A new universal CropStop prototype was designed in the fall and could impact global agrarian economies where there is interest in this concept for sustaining local growers and evolving farm communities.

sim[PLY] was first developed by Clemson architectural faculty and students as part of their entry in the 2015 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition. While their end result was a solar-powered, energy-efficient home, it was just the beginning for the innovative framing system that is proving it has a marketable life of its own.

Architecture student Paul Mosher examines sim[PLY] pieces cut by a Computer Numeric Control device. Sim[PLY]’s interlocking connection technology is patent-pending.

“sim[PLY] is an ongoing, evolving project,” Schwennsen said. “New teams of students are being challenged to optimize the design and create newer, smarter versions to meet the needs of a variety of commercial, government and end-user market applications.”

The School of Architecture and its faculty continue to be leaders in integrating critical and creative research into its nationally ranked accredited graduate program.

The sim[PLY] team includes faculty inventors Dan Harding, Dustin Albright, Dave Pastre, Ulrike Heine, Vincent Blouin and Ufuk Ursoy; and contributing student inventors Anthony Wohlers, Michael Stoner, Eric Balogh, Tyler Silvers, Clair Dias, Alison Martin, Jon Pennington, Jeff Hammer, Will Hinkley, Justin Hamrick, Alexandra Latham, Neely Leslie, Daniel Taylor, David Herrero, Rebecca Mercer, Russell Buchanan, Amelia Brackmann, Paul Mosher, Allyson Beck and Alex Libengood.

The View from Sikes: Preparing for What Comes Next

PrezClementsVFSikesA new academic year always brings a sense of renewed optimism and anticipation for what comes next. Preparing for what comes next is — after all — the essence of what universities do. Asking questions, experimenting, creating, debating and thinking deeply and critically — these are essential tools for equipping students to succeed during and after college. They also are tools for finding solutions to the great challenges of our time and for discovering innovations that drive economic growth.

It’s easy to be optimistic when we consider the accomplishments of the year just completed:

• Achieving a Top 20 national ranking from U.S.News & World Report and a seventh consecutive Top 25 ranking.
• Setting new records in demand for enrollment and quality of the student body.
• Reaching record levels in private fundraising.
• Earning national rankings for quality, value, return on tuition investment, town-gown relations and the No. 1 ranked alumni network.
• Securing additional state support for critical educational, economic development and public service programs and facilities.
• Opening our first off-campus visitors center — Experience Clemson — in downtown Greenville.
• Tackling the largest construction program in University history to address facilities needs and take advantage of a competitive external market, low interest rates and the University’s strong debt capacity.

Our strategic plan — 2020Forward — is a key part of preparing Clemson University for what comes next. In July, the board of trustees gave preliminary approval to the key concepts in the strategic plan and charged the administration to return this fall with a final plan for review.

Included among those key concepts are the following priorities:

• Providing high-impact engagement opportunities to students as a cornerstone of undergraduate education.
• Growing research and doctoral enrollment, with emphasis on programs and research focus areas where we can achieve national prominence, and an organizational structure that supports excellence.
• Making Clemson an exceptional place to work.
• Increasing our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.

The plan also retains many of the strategic priorities of the 2020 Road Map — including a sustained Top 20 national ranking, an aggressive capital improvement plan and commitment to outreach and economic progress for South Carolina.

In order to achieve these goals, we must create a climate where every person feels valued and has the ability to succeed. The need for a more diverse and inclusive campus emerged as a consistent message from the strategic planning team. Based on that work and the dozens of meetings we held with faculty, staff, students and alumni in the spring, we have framed a plan for diversity and excellence that has the following four pillars:

• First, develop and implement a strategic plan to increase the diversity of the student body, staff, faculty and administration, with measurable goals.
• Second, promote greater cultural awareness and a sense of community, which is the focus of several initiatives launched last spring, such as the monthly student dialogue lunches and a planned lecture series.
• Third, assess and enhance the effectiveness of existing diversity initiatives and support services. As part of this effort, we will move the Gantt Multicultural Center from Student Affairs to the Office of Diversity — to enhance coordination and better leverage the expertise and resources of each unit.
• Fourth, document and communicate the history of Clemson, including the role of under-represented groups. We have initiated a process with state authorities to add a series of markers to campus to help document additional parts of our history.

These efforts will be enhanced by the board’s recent action to adopt a resolution and appoint a task force to explore ways to accurately preserve and tell the complete history of Clemson, which includes opening a discussion on Benjamin Tillman. I applaud the board for their action, and I look forward to assisting the task force with their work.  Evaluating, discussing, critiquing and debating important issues are what great universities do to arrive at the best solutions. Understanding and communicating the full story of Clemson’s history is an important part of creating a more inclusive and welcoming campus environment.

So what’s next for Clemson in 2015-16?

• Enrolling another outstanding class of students.
• Launching a new strategic plan by January 1, 2016.
• Successfully completing the Will to Lead for Clemson capital campaign, which will make Clemson the first public university with an alumni base our size to surpass a $1 billion campaign goal.
• Opening new academic and athletic facilities on campus, as well as additions to the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research campus in Greenville and the Zucker Family Graduation Education Center in North Charleston — with more groundbreakings to come.

What comes next — is another great year to be a Clemson Tiger!

Go Tigers!

Clemson team to compete in international Solar Decathlon

For the first time, Clemson will be among the 20 teams selected from universities around the world to compete at this fall’s international Solar Decathlon, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The competition, held every two years in Irvine, California, challenges teams to design and build a cost-effective, energy-efficient and visually appealing solar home, blending affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and design efficiency.

Comprising students from each of Clemson’s five colleges, along with dedicated faculty members, Clemson’s team has embraced the challenge to build and operate the home, named Indigo Pine, a three-bedroom, 1,000 square feet, net-zero energy, solar house that is cost-efficient in today’s market and comfortable in South Carolina and comparable climate zones. The name “Indigo Pine” originates from the home’s Southern roots. Indigo was historically grown in South Carolina while pine trees remain a vital cash crop to the state’s economy. The concept focuses on stitching together innovative building methods, Southern charm and local products in a home for a Southern family.

Clemson is taking the competition to a new level by choosing to “email” the house across the country then using those digital files to cut out the structural system using a CNC, a computer-controlled cutting machine. This system, referred to as Sim[PLY], allows Indigo Pine to be built virtually anywhere a CNC is available using off-the-shelf materials and handheld tools. Indigo Pine is challenging the construction and design world to think differently about light wood framing and construction in general.

Utilizing the Sim[PLY] system to email the house digitally from coast to coast rather than shipping the entire home by truck allows the team to vastly reduce the production of carbon dioxide emissions from the project. Furthermore, Team Clemson plans to construct not one but two versions of Indigo Pine, one in the South Carolina Botanical Garden this spring and the other in California this fall. This will allow for testing of the home’s functionality and will showcase the ability of the home to be built anywhere.

Clemson’s Solar Decathlon team is operating entirely on private funding from individuals and corporate sponsors.

The Unveiling of Indigo Pine: 

 

More information about Indigo Pine, including how to volunteer or donate.