Bensonwood Associate’s Visionary Design on Display at Boston Society of Architects Exhibit

urban timber logo

Urban Timber: From Seed to City,” a new exhibit at the Boston Society of Architects’ Gallery Space, celebrates wood as a natural and sensible building material for cities, while highlighting wood’s adaptability, versatility and extraordinary technical qualities. It also highlights some innovative thinking going on at Bensonwood.

Included on display at the BSA Space — and the result of an open competition — are four winning projects proposed by emerging architects featuring innovative structural uses of timber.

Screenshot-2014-07-25-15

Bensonwood Designer Tim Olson assembling his Coopered Column. Photo by Ethan Lacy.

The winners collaborated with mentor architects, engineers and material suppliers to develop and realize their installations in the gallery. Each piece in the exhibit is an art project — and would look right at home in any modern art gallery — but is trying to prove a design theory.

four corners exhibit urban timber

Aaron Forrest inside of his “Four Corners.” Photo by © Winnie Man | QtMousie Studios

Two of the four design installations in the exhibition involve Bensonwood associates. The first, “Four Corners” by Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest, enlisted Bensonwood chief structural engineer Chris Carbone as a mentor. The Four Corners installation turns the traditional timberframed New England barn inside out using cross-laminated timber.

The second, Bensonwood Designer  Tim Olson’s dynamic “Coopered Column,” weighs about 3,000 pounds and consists of 118 timber pieces and over 250 screws. Titled “coopered” because it borrows from the design of a barrel; the interlocking timbers act like staves, and a belt of screws holding it together mimic the metal hoop of a barrel or other wooden vessel made by craftsmen known as coopers.

tim olson Bensonwood designer

Bensonwood Designer Tim Olson with his award-winning “Coopered Column” installation.

Olson’s bowl-like installation is called a column because a cylindrical support was his original design, a wooden structure that could handle the weight of a skyscraper. He flattened the column into a bowl shape to demonstrate how the design could handle stresses necessary to support a building. You can listen to a recent NHPR story on Tim’s installation.

The exhibit also explores how using wood in mid-rise buildings can combat climate change and underscores wood’s potential as the need for high-performance, low environmental impact structures continues to increase in our urban centers.

P1000928In addition to exploring wood technology and recent innovations in the array of engineered timber available to architects and engineers, the Urban Timber exhibit dispels common myths associated with building in timber, such as the notion that heavy timber is not sufficiently fire resistant. In some instances, engineered wood retains its integrity even better than steel. Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), for example, has a higher resistance to fire because of its thickness since the outer layers, when charred, protect the inner layers, just as a large-diameter tree does in a forest fire.

While the perception of wood in America as a lesser building material endures, Yugon Kim, founding owner/partner of IKD and co-curator of the BSA exhibit,  believes that Urban Timber: From Seed to City will show that the use of timber as the primary structure in mid-rise building construction in Europe proves there is a new future for wood buildings.

P1000629

Tim Olson’s Coopered Column under construction. Click to see architect Ethan Lacy’s time-lapse video of it being built.

Urban use of heavy timber has long been an interest here at Bensonwood. In 2007, Bensonwood and Unity Homes founder Tedd Benson was a leader of the UMass Amherst Wood Structures Symposium that explored technological advances in green buildings, as well as digital fabrication with wood and engineered wood products. Organized by the university’s Building Materials and Wood Technology program, the event highlighted new advances in contemporary wood architecture and presaged the current interest in building high-rises with wood. Currently, the tallest wooden buildings are only around 100 feet tall, but constructing much taller timber buildings is now a realistic idea.

In recent years, the technical advances that Bensonwood and Unity Homes have helped develop have given rise to a broad range of process innovations, such as CNC milling and off-site assembly, as well as engineered-wood products with superior performance qualities, such as the glulams (glued, laminated timber) and CLTs used in nearly all of our projects for their strength, flexibility and reliability.

Thanks to novel composites and engineered wood products, such as glulam beams and CLTs, several multistory buildings have already been erected around the world with timber skeletons, and plans for taller buildings are in the works.

four corners

Image: “Four Corners” by Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest. Photograph © Winnie Man | QtMousie Studios.

Urban timber proponents have been making a larger argument to the building industry and to policy makers that to build cities with a lower environmental impact, wood is not just promising but necessary. It’s a plentiful resource that grows back relatively quickly, and even pulls carbon out of the atmosphere during its life cycle.

Architect Michael Green, a passionate advocate for building wood high-rises,said in a recent TED Talk, “Steel represents about three percent of man’s greenhouse emissions, and concrete is over five percent.” He estimates that every 20-story building made out of wood instead of steel or concrete saves around 4,300 tons of carbon, equal to around 900 cars removed from the road in a year.

There are still some major environmental issues to tackle, of course, such as how greatly increased timber harvesting would affect our ecosystem. However, the USDA recently announced a major initiative to promote innovative, sustainable wood building materials for environmental protection and job creation.

EventpageBG_0

The exhibition was curated and designed by Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, principals of the Boston-based architecture firm IKD.

The Urban Timber show will remain on display in the BSA Space at 290 Congress Street in Boston through September 30. Admission is free and open to the public. The public program includes a series of collaborative public workshops and lectures to provide extra platforms for dialogue and knowledge-sharing between key players in the industry. For more information on the Urban Timber exhibit, visit the BSA website.

Bensonwood Designer Tim Olson Wins AIA-VT Emerging Professionals Award

Tim Olson Common Core Library

Bensonwood Design team member Tim Olson took Third Place in the AIA Vermont 2014 Emerging Professionals Network Design Competition: “Engaging the Public Library.”

The Emerging Professionals Network of Vermont is a component of AIA Vermont, and serves local emerging professionals by representation on the AIAVT Board of Directors, while in turn educating members about important developments within the design and construction industry. The EPN also serves a larger purpose by organizing events and projects that bring together students, young designers and experienced architects, in order to promote architecture and good design in the community.

Contrary to popular belief, public libraries are not a declining institution. Over the past 12 years (a period experiencing a dramatic expansion of the internet as well as a shrinking of public funding) yearly visits, program attendance and total income for Vermont public libraries have increased by more than 50%. Therefore, the issue is not making libraries relevant again, but strengthening the relevance of libraries for the future.

The competition asked emerging architectural professionals from around New England to design an architectural intervention that reinforces and expands the relevance of the public library.

Competitors specifically addressed:

–          How can architectural interventions catalyze the exchange of ideas in a library and its community?

–          What programs and amenities can attract new user groups while maintaining existing patrons?

–          How is a public library a distinct form of access for information, knowledge and discussion?

–          What is the contemporary function, role and identity of the New England public library?

Tim Olson AIA Vermont Board

Entries came in from emerging professionals in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island, with designs in the form of additions, renovations, and satellite structures under 2,000 square feet. Winners were selected by a jury of architects, librarians and community members who considered graphic clarity, originality and cohesiveness of concept.

Tim’s entry, The Common Core, proposed that libraries provide an essential and rare type of civic space where populations can collect and engage in the social construction of community through the cohabitation of a shared resource.

Olson imagined a Public Library with a central space at its core that could be accessed and utilized by a larger cross section of the population. This space could be activated both during normal library hours for children’s programs, reading rooms and study space. In the after hours, or for special events the space could transform into a lounge, community living room, or an ad-hoc movie theater—a space designed to host book openings, film screenings, public lectures and art events. The Common Core offers the insertion of a “stage” and adjoining “fly loft” to make this diversity of programs possible.

The exhibit will be displayed at the Pierson Library in Shelburne, Vermont, and then travel around the state with the AIAVT Design Awards.

The Common Core offers the insertion of a “stage” and adjoining “fly loft” to make this diversity of programs possible. By radically compacting furnishings into a vertical space, an expansion in the programmatic potentials can be accomplished while maintaining the urban location, historic facade and footprint of the New England Public Library.

The exhibit will be displayed at the Pierson Library in Shelburne, Vermont and then travel around the state with the AIAVT Design Awards.