Hogeschool van Amsterdam

Centre of Applied Research Technology

From an old window frame to a hip custom furniture piece

the CW4N researcher, graduate and intern workshop proves it's possible

15 Oct 2021 11:56

You can make trendy things with wood from renovation projects. This has been proven by students and researchers of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS). Using digital technology and robots, they transformed old doors and window frames into a custom furniture piece. The research and design frameworks will be presented at DRIVE21, an event during the Dutch Design Week from 16 to 24 October 2021. The students developed it during a two-week intensive workshop around the Circular Wood for the Neighbourhood (CW4N) project – an initiative that both students and researchers at AUAS greatly appreciate.

Long and short. Wide and narrow. With or without paint residue, metal and sometimes with drill holes or a letterbox in it. Each part is unique in the pile of renovation wood that is stacked up at the Robot Lab of the AUAS. In the corner of the room, two robots sit side by side, waiting for instructions from a group of researchers and students. They are still staring intently at a computer screen. “We have learned to think in reverse,” says Kees Ijzerman, a graduate student of Architecture at the AUAS. “We are used to first coming up with a design and then looking for a suitable material. But when processing old wood, it has to be exactly the other way around. You take the available material as a starting point and adjust the design accordingly.”

A computational design framework

That sounds like a complicated puzzle, but luckily the researchers and students don't have to solve it on their own. The computer does it for them, using special software for computational design. “You define the parameters and inform the program which preconditions the design must meet. For example, you must consider the shape and dimensions of your design, and whether all the available wood or only part of the wood should be incorporated,” explains Ijzerman. “That results in endless variations.”

Ijzerman and his teammates – students of Architecture, Communication and Multimedia Design (CMD) and a furniture maker from HMC (Hout and Meubileringscollege Amsterdam) – face the challenge of distilling the most interesting options and translating them into instructions for the robots.

Solve problems yourself

These were intensive days for the participants in the two-week workshop that the AUAS Robot Lab organised in September 2021. And that is exactly the intention, emphasises Marco Galli, lecturer, researcher and program coordinator at the Digital Production Research Group of the AUAS. “During this introductory workshop, we immerse new interns and graduates for two weeks in the world of digital design and robotic production. We put them to work from day one,” he says. “Initially, the students are overwhelmed by the amount of information that is poured out on them. But gradually they understand what they are doing better and they become more and more creative in the solutions they come up with.” The challenge for a teacher like Galli is to guide the students in the process, but let them think for themselves as much as possible.

Students working together

Research into circular construction

This approach cuts both ways: the students take the insights they gain with them in their further careers and the AUAS continues to expand its knowledge of circular construction. “The feedback we receive from students helps us, for example, to improve the user-friendliness of the software that we have developed in-house,” Galli illustrates. “And it gives us ideas for further research.”

“With an initiative like this, we show what you can do with wood from renovation projects,” says Tony Schoen, project manager of CW4N. “We are thus starting a process of awareness, not only among the professionals of tomorrow, but also in the construction world of today.” The project provides insights that municipalities and housing associations can use to make informed decisions about the reuse of old wood. “They also get an idea of the best steps to take in this regard,” says Schoen.

Co-creation

The AUAS Robot Lab often organises workshops in which students from different disciplines and researchers work together on an issue. “We believe in co-creation, in which all participants have an influence on the process and end result,” emphasises Marta Malé-Alemany, head of the Digital Production Research Group. Participants enter into a dialogue with each other, each based on their own knowledge and experience. “That's how you arrive at the best solutions.”

This is also reflected in the CW4N Workshop that was recently held: where one student contributes knowledge about architecture, the other can tell you everything about the properties and quality of wood.

Upcycling Wood via Digital Production

Previous workshops conducted under the banner of Upcycling Wood via Digital Production have, amongst others, involved building a reception desk from waste wood for the Johan Cruijff Arena. Other projects within the Digital Production Research Group and Robot Lab are increasingly working with workshops. Examples include '3D Printing with local residual products' and 'Demo Factory'. This is a development that Malé-Alemany applauds: “Tomorrow's professionals must not only excel in their own field, they must also understand what is happening in neighbouring fields. That enables them to work in multidisciplinary teams.”

Galli and Schoen were allowed to present the CW4N research at DRIVE 2021, the Design Research & Innovation Festival of CLICKNL during the Dutch Design Week. The two hope that it will inspire the construction world to think differently. If it is up to Galli, the new design to production approach will be widely applicable to education, industry and business within a few years.

Silly robots

For the students, the project has already been successful. “It is nice to work towards a higher goal during your studies,” says Ijzerman. “You can do much more with robots than with ordinary production machines,” adds future furniture maker Noah Weijde. “Although, those robots are not as smart as one might think. You really have to explain everything to them, absolutely everything,” he chuckles.


Fortunately, today the robots do what they have to do. Researcher Valentijn Bors inserts a USB stick into a computer that is connected to the robots via a controller. Ijzerman can press the button and…. the robot moves.

Mission accomplished.

Circular design & business

The Digital Production Research Group is part of the Center of Expertise Urban Technology. The CW4N project makes an important contribution to the further development of the Digital Production Research Group. This research group works on wood in various projects, with the overarching theme: Upcycle Wood Factory.

CW4N partners

Partners in CW4N are the housing corporations Ymere and Rochdale, their co-creators Lenferink and Rutges (who are carrying out the technical renovation work), the municipality of Amsterdam, Platform31, Metabolic, TNO, TU Delft, GP Groot and Ter Steege. The project is co-financed by the SIA Directorate (RAAK-Publiek programme).