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A master's graduate explores adaptable buildings and mass timber construction

Lidia Proykina explores the potential for reusable building materials and adaptable timber construction in her Master’s thesis, which is rooted in her passion for sustainability.

Portrait of Lidia Prooykina

Portrait of Lidia Proykina

In her thesis project, Lidia Proykina, a recent master’s graduate, explores the concept of reusability in timber construction. Her passion for sustainability and innovative building practices led her to this project and some potentially groundbreaking solutions for the future of design. We sat down with Lidia as she starts her career and continues to explore sustainable ideas to learn more about SketchUp’s role in her journey and the insights she’s learned from the project.

Who is Lidia Proykina?

Proykina, originally from Bulgaria, pursued her passion for architecture by undertaking her bachelor's degree at the University of Toronto in Canada. Following graduation, she gained valuable experience working for approximately two years for a high-end retirement home company in Canada on the design team before taking a significant step in her career, enrolling in the prestigious KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden to pursue a Master of Architecture degree.

During her time in Canada and Sweden, Proykina became deeply interested in wood architecture, given the prominence of timber production in both countries. She appreciated Sweden's sustainability-focused approach to life as reflected in the thriving wood industry and the advancement of mass timber buildings. During her studies in Sweden, she worked with architecture and engineering students to design and detail a ten-meter-long wooden bridge for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. A committee selected a winning proposal, which the students were then able to build at full scale. This design-build experience only strengthened her passion for working with wood and reusable building materials helped shape her thesis project.

“I wanted to create a building that was proactive in its adaptability, meaning that it was essentially like a living organism. I designed a structural system model out of wood that allowed for easy assembly and reassembly of each element.” 

Model of the wooden bridge designed for pedestrian and bicycle traffic

Model of the wooden bridge designed for pedestrian and bicycle traffic

Proactive adaptability 

Adaptability is fundamental when designing buildings in any dynamic urban environment. Cities are constantly evolving, experiencing growth and transformation over time. However, the current approach to urban design often prioritizes permanence. Proykina recognized this challenge and designed a modular building system with adaptable timber construction at its core.

Dynamic building in neighborhood 

Dynamic building in neighborhood 

To achieve her vision, Proykina focused on developing a structural system model that facilitated easy assembly, disassembly, and reconfiguration to enable efficient reuse and repurposing. Her approach to dividing up the building into separate layers allows for flexible modifications and replacements.

“Cities are growing organisms; they keep changing all the time. They expand. They shrink. It’s not very intuitive to have things that are permanent in an urban environment that is [constantly changing].” 

With environmental impact in mind, Proykina opted for wood as her design's primary construction material. Her project employed a hybrid system with prefabricated modules using Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) for the main structure and laminated veneer lumber (LVL) for the floor plates. While the latest structural advancements have resulted in wood becoming an amazing and sustainable material option for building, it is important to be mindful of the raw resource itself, manage it well, and not be wasteful with its use in construction. That is why Proykina opted for a hybrid wood structure using LVL modules in the floor and a CLT skeleton of CLT beams and columns, to reduce the overall amount of wood used in her structural system. 

Proykina used metal connectors between wood elements to ensure structural integrity and longevity during assembly and disassembly. This approach not only prolonged the life of each component but also facilitated easy replacement in case of any damage or wear. The result was an innovative residential building standing eight stories tall, with the potential to expand to 12 stories as needed. 

Proykina's design embraced adaptability and sustainability, combining wood and metal to create a flexible and environmentally-conscious building. In working towards these types of novel and innovative solutions, she’s asking a series of critical questions about the evolving needs of urban environments and highlighting the importance of responsible construction practices in an ever-changing world.

3D model of an apartment layout 

3D model of an apartment layout 

“We could take this building apart, move it to a new site, and reconfigure it. It can serve a new purpose and have a new life instead of just tearing it down. The idea was to reduce waste as much as possible and to create a building that you can theoretically move to a new site.” 

Exploded axonometric of the apartment building
Exploded axonometric of the apartment building

Exploded Axonometric of the apartment building 

Inspired design

During her time in Canada, Proykina witnessed the emergence of mass timber construction and sustainable architecture in her surroundings. The innovative concept of mass timber buildings intrigued her and planted the seeds of her passion for sustainability. Upon moving to Sweden, a country renowned for its eco-friendly initiatives and wood-centric architecture, Proykina's fascination with sustainable design flourished.

During our conversation, Proykina explained how these experiences motivated her to embark on a thesis project with the goal of revolutionizing sustainable architecture. She wanted to design a building that showcased the sustainable potential of wood while highlighting its ability to create a  beautiful, harmonious balance between nature and urban environments.

Living in Sweden also allowed Proykina to immerse herself in rich architecture, which significantly shaped her creative vision. She encountered a wide range of architectural expressions that left a lasting impact on her design ideas. 

Section perspective of apartments in an adaptable building

Section perspective of apartments in an adaptable building

Getting started with SketchUp

Proykina attended a series of Trimble workshops, including the Visiting Professionals Program,  where she discovered firsthand the benefits of 3D modeling software. She appreciated how SketchUp enabled her to effortlessly create and export plans, sections, and elevations in LayOut. Moreover, the automation feature impressed her. Any changes made to the 3D model were automatically reflected in LayOut, eliminating the tedious task of redoing drawings every time a minor adjustment was made to the building design. 

“[In Sketchup,] everything is streamlined. You can export within the different software. If you make a change [in the 3D model], everything is directly reflected among the [integrated] software, such as in LayOut.” 

The flexibility of SketchUp 

Proykina used many SketchUp features to elevate her design process. Working with  components and groups let her experiment with different elements while maintaining consistency and efficiency throughout the project. 

“My project was very component based; I had many of the same elements repeated. When I wanted to change something, it was great because if I changed one, all of them changed. I didn't have to go in and change every single one of them. ” 

SketchUp's Extension Warehouse also opened up new tools to add to her workflow. With tools like 1001bit tools, Proykina could expedite complex design features like spiral staircases with a few clicks. CG Impact Report and Trimble Scan Essentials were also useful for handling the complexity of the project.  

In addition to the Extension Warehouse as a time saver, Proykina also relied on SketchUp tutorials and resources to streamline her workflow. 
Layout preliminary design development floor 

Layout preliminary design development floor 

Real-world collaboration

As part of the thesis, Proykina collaborated with companies such as Rothoblaas and Klara Byggsystem to further assess the feasibility of her project. Rothoblaas, a company specializing in metal connectors for mass timber buildings, helped by providing durable, easy-to-install and assemble metal connections. Klara Byggsystem specializes in prefabricated CLT foundation modules and provided essential technical information to help integrate their products into Proykina's sustainable design. She believes such collaborations are crucial to expanding sustainable architecture boundaries and embracing innovative technologies.

Advice for aspiring architects

When envisioning her future in architecture and design, Proykina emphasizes the importance of using one software ecosystem. The way that Trimble products seamlessly work together allowed her to transition into different types of software such as V-Ray, LayOut, Tekla, and SketchUp for Desktop. Since this connectivity of products streamlined her master’s thesis project workflow, she’s looking forward to leveraging connected technologies in her professional future. Proykina recommends SketchUp for both simple designs and complex architectural projects. 

“SketchUp is simple to work with, but it definitely can handle the complexity of the models in big or small projects. I could even import [IFC and RFA] BIM files into SketchUp and work with them. ”

Proykina envisions a world where sustainable architecture flourishes, and timber construction becomes more prevalent. Using wood as a fundamental material brings more than just sustainability; she believes that wood's natural beauty fosters a deep connection with nature and will create pleasant environments for people — an all-important consideration in the design process.

Building for the future

Looking ahead, Proykina is determined to pursue a career in sustainable architecture, focusing on wood-centric design. She aims to continue designing eco-friendly, visually stunning, and practical structures. Proykina hopes to develop her thesis project further and eventually see it come to life as a real-world solution.

SketchUp screenshot of the building that Lidia Proykina designed 

SketchUp screenshot of the building that Lidia Proykina designed 

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About the Author

Sarah has a passion for writing and is eager to improve her skills. When not learning or working, Sarah enjoys going on runs, snowboarding, and listening to music.

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