Maestro is a construction-technology start-up from Turin-based Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) that recently unveiled a prototype for “A.I. Timber”. This new way of producing sustainable cross-laminated timber (CLT) uses artificial intelligence to maintain a tree’s original shape. Wooden pieces fit together like those in a puzzle, thereby reducing waste.
The first A.I. Timber prototype — a small, triangular pavilion — was produced earlier this summer in Shanghai during a one-week workshop that was part of “DigitalFUTURES” (a conference organized by Professor Philip Yuan of Shanghai’s Tongji University). The prototype was developed with students and researchers from both Tongji University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Carlo Ratti is a Professor of Urban Technologies.
“The production and use of cement is responsible for approximately 8% of the world’s total CO2e emissions (Chatham House International Think Tank), a figure that will increase if urban construction trends continue” (Waugh Thistleton Architects, 2023). As the construction industry seeks to reduce its carbon emissions, mass timber is increasingly viewed as a sustainable alternative to concrete and steel. However, CRA points out that “the industrial sawing process of cutting unique trees into standardized panels generates a large amount of wood waste.” Hence, the introduction of A.I. Timber.
Trees come in all shapes and sizes and a process such as A.I. Timber seeks to celebrate their irregular features. Maestro utilizes AI and digital machining tools to scan a series of logs: flat sawing the logs into boards, an optimum sequence of fitting them together is then identified. The process results in timber panels made up of boards that fit together like puzzle pieces, wasting as little of the tree as possible.
“Timber isn’t just a substitute for concrete; it unlocks new possibilities for prefabricated construction,” says Mykola Murashko, a 23-year-old Cambridge graduate who co-founded Maestro with Carlo Ratti. “Because engineered wood products are lightweight, renewable, and dimensionally stable, we can design an entire building in our factory, then ship the flatpack of its components to construction sites around the world.”
Maestro’s aim is to revolutionize the construction industry using innovations such as A.I. Timber. It’s a method that “promises to make building better, faster, and greener than ever before,” says CRA. With A.I. Timber, one of the world’s oldest building materials meets one of its most advanced technologies. AI is “letting us use wood more sustainably,” says Carlo Ratti. “We are using the artificial to bring out the brilliance of the natural.”
Waugh Thistleton Architects (2023). Timber Typologies. London: Timber Development UK.