Framing Method Eschews Construction Trappings

MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017

A framing method recently developed by the Clemson University School of Architecture in South Carolina has spurred construction projects that don’t require skilled labor, power tools or nails.

The Sim(PLY) Framing System employs a patent-pending, interlocking tab-and-slot connection method. The framing is sustainable, easily transported, and structures can be built using little else but steel zip ties and screws.

“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 Clemson’s School of Architecture.

Project Origins and Applications

The system was developed by Clemson’s architectural faculty and students as part of their entry in the 2015 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Irvine, California. The group constructed a solar-powered, energy-efficient home named Indigo Pine.

Sim(PLY) is created from locally sourced plywood, and it uses a computer numeric control fabricator to cut the components. After the plywood is pre-cut and pre-measured, the framing can be flat-packed for shipment. No large vehicles are needed; it takes up minimal space and can fit in most automobiles.

Assembly is similar to building a 3-D puzzle. Because no nails are needed, the framing can be disassembled easily without causing structural damage. 

“The wall cavity depth can be easily scaled up or down, for greater or less insulating value, as needed,” said Dustin Albright, assistant professor of the architecture school. “Moreover, Sim(PLY) walls have minimal thermal bridging compared to inline framing. These measures would otherwise require offset studs or Larsen truss construction, if using conventional lumber.

“Non-destructive disassembly involves snipping the cable ties and popping the joints loose with a mallet. The pieces are then ready to flat-pack and reuse elsewhere.”

Because plans for a Sim(PLY)-built structure are recorded as a set of digital files, they can be sent anywhere in the world. Builders can use local materials adapted to a specific site.

Sparking Interest

According to Clemson’s Media Relations Department, possible uses and benefits to the system abound:

  • A national Department of Defense (DOD) building contractor has considered Sim(PLY) for Rapidly Deployable Housing applications, such as temporary military housing.
  • Clemson’s architectural students have designed an energy-efficient Sim(PLY) tiny home prototype that could be structurally framed in one day.
  • The Forestry Association of South Carolina reported Sim(PLY)’s use of plywood would create a more diverse use of forest resources; the method uses plywood, which makes use of older, more mature trees.
  • Architectural communities in Italy, Austria and Germany--worldwide leaders in wood construction--have inquired about the system because of its sustainable performance benefits.

Still Tinkering

Sim(PLY) was used to build CropStop in Greenville, South Carolina, an incubator kitchen and gathering place for crop owners to meet consumers’ demand for farm-to-table foods. It is the first commercial application for a system that is still being fine-tuned.

“Can we build it in high winds? How can we build it cheaper? All of these different applications that are being presented (are) coming from the excitement around the project,” said Dan Harding, an associate professor of the Clemson School of Architecture.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Building Envelope; Colleges and Universities; Design; Design build; North America; Wood

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