If ever a client exists that would want to flaunt the versatility of wood, it is Damiani-Holz & Ko (DH&K), a timber construction company in the light-industrial district of Bressanone, Italy. DH&K wanted a building that “represented what they do in an innovative way and that just stood out and said, ‘Wood,’ ” says Sandy Attia, founding partner of local firm MoDus Architects.
Housing a customer service area, office space, and a multipurpose room, the four-story, 12,885-square-foot building features wood framing, floors, ceilings, and stairs. But its most prominent element is its exterior, which comprises 424 geometric plywood fins that wrap the structure’s walls and roof and mimic the towering pallets of boards and planks in DH&K’s lumberyard. “These big, very monolithic blocks—almost like mini buildings of wood—were our inspiration,” Attia says. Designed using Maxon Cinema 4D Studio, Autodesk 3ds Max, and other software, each uniquely shaped fin in the series contributes to the undulating pattern that becomes the building’s seemingly continuous outer skin.
The fins also form a brise-soleil over most of the building’s windows. Attia says that shading was important because DH&K’s staff always had to draw the blinds in their former office building to limit solar glare and heat gain. “We understood that light was an issue,” she says. “This brise-soleil was a useful façade solution.”
The exterior skin has two layers, both made from Kerto, a laminated veneer lumber (LVL) product from Finland-based Metsä Wood (formerly Finnforest). The 6,060-square-foot base layer comprises 156 0.83-inch-thick sheets of Kerto, which are finished in a dark stain and treated for weather and fungal resistance. Perpendicular to these panels are the lighter-color curvilinear fins. Juxtaposed together, the different hues add depth of the cube-shaped building. “We were … interested in working with the kind of duality between the lightness and heaviness of wood,” Attia says.
Each exterior wall surface has 53 fins, spaced 300 millimeters (11.8 inches) on center, while 212 fins cover the roof. DH&K cut the 39-foot-long fins for the wall from 1,250-millimeter-by-13,500-millimeter (4.1-foot-by-44.3-foot) Kerto panels using a Hundegger PBA machine. The fins measure up to 2 feet deep and are treated with a copper sulfate solution that provides some weather resistance and preserves their natural color. Each fin is bolted to the base layer of Kerto sheets with four T-shaped steel clasps.
The building’s first floor sits atop an underground parking garage and is framed in concrete, keeping the LVL components above grade. However, the architects didn’t want to deviate from the idea of using timber as the primary construction material. “Wood and concrete have a symbiotic relationship,” Attia says. “To do poured-in-place concrete, you need formwork … so we [created] different ways of sanding the formwork [for the concrete structure as well as for an interior concrete wall to bring] out the grain.”
MoDus spent nearly three years designing the project, working closely with DH&K, which ordered the materials, engineered the structure, and constructed the building. The firm also collaborated with Simon Neulichedl, an engineer at the Bolzano, Italy–based civil engineering firm BauCon, for the concrete portion of the structure. The headquarters was completed in 2012.
The headquarters has elevated DH&K’s marketing efforts. “It totally raised the bar on their business,” Attia says. “They’ve become a tourist site for architects and for engineers … [who are] interested in learning how to use wood in their projects.”
Jenny Jones is a Washington, D.C.–based writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Financial Times, Civil Engineering, State Tax Notes, and other publications. For ARCHITECT, she writes about building technology.