Architecture students at Clemson University’s South Carolina institute have developed a new construction method that could significantly change the way we build our homes.

The sim[PLY] Framing System involves the use of pre-manufactured, CNC-cut plywood components, specialised connection details and hand-powered tools to build houses safely and easily on-site. 

The pre-cut and individually numbered components are flat-packed and shipped directly to a building site, where they are easily and rapidly assembled using the new method’s most innovative feature: a patent-pending interlocking tab-and-slot connection system.

This system has no need for nails. Instead, it utilises steel zip ties along with a small number of screws. In this way, buildings come together like a 3D puzzle. It is also simple enough for non-skilled workers to use, and is not dependent on the use of heavy equipment.

“Assembly is safe and quiet and requires no power equipment,” the researchers explain. “The result is a durable, eco-friendly building with a strong and resilient structure, capable of high insulating values.”

Disassembly is as easy as the construction process. Buildings that use the sim[PLY] Framing System can be brought down without any structural damage. 

Paul-Mosher-CNC.jpgArchitecture student Paul Mosher examines sim[PLY] pieces cut by a Computer Numeric Control device. The framing system utilises pre-cut plywood components instead of traditional lumber, eliminating on-site waste and creating an eco-friendly architecture.

The revolutionary idea was first conceived by the university’s architectural faculty and its students. The system formed part of their entry into the 2015 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition.

While their end result was a solar-powered, energy-efficient home, the competition paved the way for the innovative framing system, which has since proven to have a marketable life of its own.

IMG_4495.jpgA team of Clemson architecture students assemble Indigo Pine East, the first structure built using the sim[PLY] construction method.

Currently, a national Department of Defense (DOD) building contractor is considering the sim[PLY] system for Rapidly Deployable Housing applications, such as for use in temporary military housing.

The system’s built-in ease of construction also makes it an ideal framing model for various types of DIY housing, like tiny houses. To explore this housing trend, Clemson’s architectural students have designed an energy-efficient sim[PLY] tiny house prototype that could be structurally framed in just one day.

Another example of a sim[PLY] structure in use is the CropStop community kitchen in Greenville, South Carolina. According to the university, the building makes it possible for crop owners to better process their harvests.

This has prompted the design of a new universal CropStop prototype, which could benefit interested global agrarian economies, sustaining their local growers and evolving farm communities.

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

Meanwhile, architectural communities in Italy, Austria and Germany – world leaders in engineered timber buildings – have also expressed interest in the sim[PLY] framing system.

“sim[PLY] is an ongoing, evolving project,” says Kate Schwennsen, professor and director of the Clemson University’s School of Architecture.

“New teams of students are being challenged to optimise the design and create newer, smarter versions to meet the needs of a variety of commercial, government and end-user market applications.”