As designers we are all fascinated by architectural precedents, history and theory but we often define relevant architecture in remarkably narrow terms. It occurred to me one day while sitting beneath a towering Douglas fir tree that perhaps understanding the architecture of a tree would be an equally worthy component of our education. A tree is a natural architecture that effectively does almost everything we dream of doing and yet we rarely consider the lessons that trees can teach us.
The modern and very relevant clichés of our profession ?? form follows function and less is more ?? could not better define the tree. Trees of all shapes, types and sizes are a product of an evolution far surpassing the complexity of our architecture. They grow and adapt to extraordinary landscapes and climates.
They produce oxygen as they grow and they sequester carbon until the day they decay or burn and return to the forest floor. They withstand phenomenal winds, and house tens of thousands of species. They twist and contort to reach the sun to survive and endure. No two are alike but they stand together in a forest; the beautiful comprehensive community we dream our cities will become.
They produce arguably the single greatest and most adaptable building material known to man: wood.
Wood is both our past and our future. We are at a unique moment of history when wood will transition from the material we have known it to be for thousands of years into the material we will know it to be for the next thousand; a material that no-one today will recognize as it is redefined into engineered products, large format panel products, wood-fibre castings, wood matrix compositions, self healing intelligent structures, and innovative structural systems for the ever bigger buildings that are bursting from our imaginations.
Wood offers us many things, but arguably its simplest and most important function is as a tool to affect a positive impact on climate change. Well-managed sustainable forestry and wood products like ours here in Canada offer us a material that sequesters the carbon and reduces the greenhouse gases that nearly all other building materials add to the atmosphere.
Our practice, mgb ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN Inc., is in Vancouver, Canada at the epicenter of a timber nation, a launching pad for wood innovation worldwide.
We live on the edge of the largest forest in the world and thankfully one of the best managed. We live just minutes from some of the tallest and strongest trees on the planet that when harvested, and most importantly regenerated in a responsible way, transform the beauty of great buildings and challenge us as architects and engineers to dream big.
Our firm has built its reputation on the innovative use of wood products and our ambition to build bigger, more complex and more structurally relevant buildings from carbon neutral and, if possible, carbon negative materials. We have designed airports and universities, fashion boutiques and restaurants, private houses and public art, each of which contributes to our education in the use of wood and our imagination of what the world might look like in the future.
We are only at the beginning, but each day we become more vested in the idea that wood and other fibre-based plant materials will define a new order of future architecture.
My dream is to build a skyscraper with a wood structure.
That comment usually brings a bit of rumble from the back of the room as it may seem absurd in today??s wood context, but today??s context will not be with us for long. New engineered products are changing the scale of our dreams.
Understanding and designing with carbon neutral structures like wood is our duty as designers because our industry has so dramatically damaged the very ecosystem we all strive to improve.
Concrete produces between seven and 10 per cent of the carbon man is putting into the atmosphere. Concrete is upwards of 10 times more impactful on climate change than the airline industry. Concrete is a problem we need to fix. Where possible, we need to replace it with durable wood solutions. Steel, though often recycled, is a heavily energy-intensive industry and its impact on the environment is profound. Wood, on the other hand, sequesters away the carbon and other greenhouse gases that concrete and steel produce. It also offers us a carbon negative solution for our buildings if we choose sustainably harvested wood products. It is time that we all explore its potential on ever increasing scales. It is also time that we source our wood from responsible markets like here in Canada where regulation ensures that we are not depleting forests that are so vital to providing the oxygen the atmosphere needs and the balanced ecosystem that is essential to all life.
The lessons of the trees all around us are simple. Evolution has created a material that is strong, flexible, adaptable and healthy for the planet. It is up to us to honour its use in beautiful architecture and meaningful structures that endure and inspire. It is up to us to dream big and shift our focus away from concrete and steel to a new era of sustainable structures.
Wood is ripe for its day in the sun. How very appropriate, then, that it is also the only major building material that is grown by the sun.
As a founding principal of mgb ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN Michael Green has designed buildings, public art, interiors, landscapes and urban environments around the globe. Michael??s current work ranges from small houses to animal shelters, from restaurants to cafes to skyscrapers, from fashion boutiques to international airports and from civic buildings and galleries to urban revitalization and parks and public art. He is happiest when his designs are quiet and modest while embracing an underlying goal that through design we can create a context for making all people??s lives happier.