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  • Writer's pictureLuis Morgado

Exploring the Timeless Craft: The Art of Wood Construction Systems and Their Traditions

Updated: Apr 8

Evolution and traditions of wood construction systems

Delving into the rich traditions of wood construction is the first step to uncovering the logic that binds together the countless methods and technologies used to build our world.

Studying the traditions of wood construction is an important starting point to search for a logic inside the universe of all the different methods and technologies. The History of Architecture can be used to identify the main construction systems and its roots. The traditions of wood construction systems and its evolution are here systematized in a logical way using a division in four main families: (wood frames, post and beam, light walls and solid walls).

We sketched a historic chronology roughly divided into four epochs, based on the technological approach to wood:


Medieval/Modern Age;

Nineteenth century;

Twentieth century.

The main driving factors triggering the evolution of form and technology were summarized as being the availability of raw materials, the environmental and climatic conditions, the cultural dynamics, the functional requirements, the search for durability, the technologic knowledge, and the will for economy.

Org Chart  of Wood construction Traditions
in Morgado, Luis (2016). Doctoral thesis in Civil Engineering. Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa.

It was assumed that in the basic stages of development the most important conditioning factor is the availability of materials.

Thus, the most elemental solution would be the “basic light frames”.

With the evolution of technical skills and technological tools, “post and beam” is going to be used, especially in places where it was necessary to increase the size of the shelter, or in floodplains, or where other materials were available to use as envelope filler.

In areas of greater availability of wood and with less alternative materials, such as in the cold regions, “basic heavy walls” (e.g. logs) emerge, providing a more effective protection against the elements of climate.

The “basic light walls” (planked walls) would correspond to a mixed development of “basic heavy walls” and “basic post and beam”, due to the less availability of forest resources and because of a greater technological command to get an efficient transformation of the tree trunk into planks.

After the primitive stages, the evolution to the middle age can be illustrated by the important role of “improved heavy frames”, especially in urban contexts and in agricultural buildings.

In the 19th century, the “improved light frames” (e.g. the balloon frame and its variants) in North America appears like an evolution and an innovation.

This logical historical outline culminates in the twentieth century with the development of industrialized systems and new products such as the “industrialized light panels” and the “heavy walls and panels” of glued laminates.

Luis Morgado

Note: This is a very short summary of a contextual chapter included in a doctoral thesis:

Morgado, Luis (2016). Doctoral thesis in Civil Engineering. Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa.


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