Cortaccia is a fascinating place, located along the valley that leads from Trento to Bolzano, in a strip of flatland, covered with vineyards as far as the eye can see, producing the highest quality wines. I go there for two main reasons: the first one, I guess, is more than understandable, the second, not less significant, deserves some more explanation. Coming from Trento on the highway, in Egna, on the left just before the turn off, you can see a stylish building made of wood, steel, and glass with the inscription: Rothoblaas. Entering that building is my second and essential reason. Rothoblaas is a brand that anyone who works in wood construction learns about immediately. The name Rothoblaas is originated from the crasis of the names and surnames of the two founders: Robert and Thomas Blaas (1). What they do inside that building is not easy to explain in a few words, but I will try. Anyone familiar with mass timber or with timber frames understands that wooden beams and panels need to have adequate joining systems to stay together and perform the features required by the designer. These can be basic tools, like nails or screws, or they can be quite elaborate, like the “spiders” which transfer the vertical load to the foundations in complex structural elements. Furthermore, Rothoblaas produces other groups of structural components, such as membranes for water/steam sealing or for acoustic isolation of floors and walls. But listing the entire production of the company, wouldn’t help with explaining adequately what Rothoblaas does and is about. To find out more, we have to go back to school. And that’s what I did with Emma Ayesu-Koranteng, lecturer of Construction Management at Nelson Mandela University, freshly arrived from South Africa to follow the course on mass wood at Rothoblaas HQ along with a hundred people coming from 32 different countries. The two days course covers the topic of mass timber in depth, from the very start. Daniele Casagrande, in the first lecture of the day, explains the effectiveness of a method such as FEM to define structural behaviors. The prediction-ability of the behaviour of materials considered “alive and natural” like wood, through mathematical formulations, is incredibly surprising. Or how far can the connection engineering go to make buildings over ten floors possible. This course is the right context where one can finally understand how substantial the distance between a traditional building and one that interprets the new technology can be. Or, in other words, like Eng. Andrea Polastri, in his speech on the potential of new connections, adequately explains, to what extent, applied and continuous research can give tangible results in the field of modular panels. The topics of research at Rothoblaas are not only those concerning structural strength but all the elements needed to make constructions more efficient. A recent project concerns the propagation of sound through walls and connections, and namely how sound is transmitted through adjacent walls. Wood is anything but sound-absorbing. Luckily so, for a number of reasons: if it was we would suddenly miss the whole string section of an orchestra, for example. And even if mass timber is not comparable to a violin, there are few acoustic complexities to solve. Eng. Alice Speranza of the Rothoblaas R&D division explained how it is possible to solve the behavioral challenges of materials such as steel (used for the connections) and wood (used for the panels), exposed to various types of sound and noise, commonly generated inside buildings. The results of this study have emerged from a joint research between Rothoblaas and the University of Bologna on the effects of the propagation of the flank sound transmission. This study led to the creation of particular membranes that reduce the sound transmission to levels (decibels) previously considered incompatible with this type of buildings. No doubt that the construction principles based on new materials are profoundly different from those adopted in conventional construction. No doubt about the need of coordinated and controlled digital tools and technology to fuse internal industrial processes and digital design. BIM (Building Information Modeling) is a method for improving construction workflow. BIM is based on the control of digital information of the construction process. It integrates the design phases with the supply chain ones and it ensures information to be promptly available and visually controllable when needed. CLT and BIM were born more or less together in the early nineties, as explained by Phillip Zumbrunnen, a Swiss engineer and director of EURBAN – English engineering company of mass timber design and construction. Both seem to have been created with the purpose of integrating and drastically improving the construction flow and making design and engineering more efficient. It seems that their combined use succeeds in avoiding what has been highlighted as the biggest problem of conventional construction: the lack of coordination between the players and the chronic fragmentation in the construction phases. During the two days spent at Rothoschool, we have perceived that Rothoblaas is an entirely different company from any other, because of its unique business model. Its core activity is applied research and not manufacturing. The latter is performed externally and examined by careful quality management. So the value is no longer generated in a production context, as in conventional companies, but through continuous research, internally lead and coordinated with the leading European universities and research institutes. This paradigm shift proves fundamental for any company, and I believe this attitude can be the best guarantee a customer can get from its supplier. (1)Thomas Blaas stepped out the company several months after the opening. For more info on Rothoblaas visit: www.rothoblaas.com
DANIELE CASAGRANDE PhD received his bachelor and master degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Trento (Italy) and a postgraduate Master in seismic design of structures (MUPAC) from the University of Trieste (Italy). He obtained his PhD in Civil and Mechanical structural system engineering from the University of Trento (Italy) working on seismic and dynamic behavior of timber buildings and the vibration assessment of timber floors. He was actively involved in full-scale shake table testing of three timber buildings within the European SERIES project and CHI-QUADRATO project. He collaborates with the Timber Research group of University of Trento in the analysis of seismic and dynamic behavior of timber buildings.
ANDREA POLASTRI Graduated in civil engineering with honors from the University of Trento and subsequently achieved a Ph.D. from the same institute. He currently carries out the research activity at the CNR-IVALSA Institute. He is dedicated, in particular, to the experimental analysis of wooden structures at the LPM of the same Institute. At IVALSA of San Michele all’ Adige, he holds the position of Technical Director of the Mechanical Testing Laboratory. In 2015 he was proclaimed winner of the “Schweighofer Innoprize” prize with the innovative X-RAD project. He has carried out intense research on topics concerning wooden structures, connections between wooden elements, and seismic response of the same at Swedish research centers and at and the University of New Brunswick, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Forest Engineering.
ALICE SPERANZA Graduated in civil engineering from the University of Trento. Currently, at the Rothoblaas headquarters, she performs the role of technical consultant in the waterproofing and acoustics sector, development, consultancy, and certification of internal products in the waterproofing and structural acoustics sector. He participates as a speaker in the courses held by Rothoblaas and in the training of internal collaborators. Collaborate with research institutes and universities. She is currently carrying out on a research project with the University of Bologna for the reduction of the transmission of vibrations in wooden structures.
PHILIP ZUMBRUNNEN is an experienced Director at EURBAN, a UK-based company leading the field in the design, manufacture, and assembly of mass timber structures. Phillip has a demonstrated history of working in the construction industry. He is skilled in Design for Manufacture & Assembly of Timber Structures, Engineering, Design Management, Feasibility Studies, Structural Engineering, and Digital Construction. Active professional with a Dipl. Ing. Structural Engineering focused on Timber Structure Engineering from Bern University of Applied Science, Architecture, Wood and Civil Engineering. Speaker at various international conferences.