Urban Timber: From seed to city

Four winning projects proposed by emerging architects feature innovative structural uses of timber

The ‘Urban Timber: From seed to city’ exhibition celebrated wood as a natural and sensible building material for cities while highlighting its adaptability, versatility, and extraordinary technical qualities. The exhibition explored how the use of wood in mid-rise buildings can combat climate change and highlighted its remarkable potential as the need for high performance, low environmental impact structures continues to increase in our urban cores. The exhibition also explored wood technology and the recent innovations in engineered timber available to architects and engineers, in a bid to dispel common myths associated with building using timber.

Included in the exhibition were a number of case studies demonstrating the successful use of timber in tall buildings. Also on display at BSA Space – and the result of an open competition – were four winning projects proposed by emerging architects featuring innovative structural uses of timber. The winners collaborated with mentor architects, engineers, and material suppliers to develop and realize their installations in the gallery.

While the U.S. perception of wood as an inferior building material persists, Yugon Kim, founding owner/partner of IKD, Associate/Director of TSKP Boston, and co-curator of the exhibition points out: “We now know that timber is a superior structural building material that should be considered alongside steel and concrete. The carbon offset and sustainability benefits of wood make it an ever-relevant and timely building material in our urban landscape. Urban Timber: From seed to city will show that recent developments – including numerous successful implementations of timber as primary structure for the construction of mid-rise buildings in Europe – point to a different future for wood.”

“Urban Timber is a reminder that the strength and solidity of New England’s physical history comes from wood, and that its future may hold a significant second act for the largely underrated structural material. Were it not for the Great Fire of Boston in 1872, the urban landscape of glass, steel and concrete that we know today might have been very different,” adds Emily Grandstaff-Rice, BSA President.

The competition was designed to give aspiring architects an opportunity to learn about timber through design and fabrication. Curators Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, also founding owners/partners of IKD, invited designers to submit their ideas for innovative structural uses of timber and assembled a jury that selected four to be displayed at BSA Space. Each team was matched with three mentors – an architect, an engineer, and a material fabricator, all with expertise in timber – who together worked for a year to develop their ideas and guide the projects. The intent was that through this experience and by gaining familiarity with timber’s potential, these emerging designers would further their understanding and appreciation for the material and go on to contribute to the profession by designing with wood. These four projects are a testament to the exciting possibilities for tomorrow’s timber buildings.



Designers: Sean Gaffney and Christina Nguyen

Architecture Mentor: Nader Tehrani (NADAAA)

Engineering Mentor: Benjamin M. Cornelius (Lera)

Fabricators: CW Keller & Associates, Studio A+I and Kin & Co

Material Supplier: Plum Creek

Duck-Work takes advantage of three qualities of plywood. The first is its availability in standardized dimensions that provides ease in both workability and transport. The second is its resistance and allowance for bending. The third is its composition of layers of different grades, thicknesses, and orientations of wood, each performing supporting roles.

Rather than relying on the standard practices of steaming, laminating or cutting wood into a desired curvature, Duck-Work invents a new type of wood construction method that integrates the tool used to bend the wood directly into the assembly itself. It proposes a system that is able to break down complex curved surfaces into standardized, economical pieces, which can be easily constructed on site without the need of many complicated fabrication tools.

The resulting structure is a unique, customized, inhabitable landscape built entirely from standard off-the-shelf plywood sheets. In the same way that plywood is an assembly of layers of veneer held together by glue, this structure is comprised of layers of plywood shaped by central tension rods, able to support larger loads.


Four Corners

Designers: Yasmin Vobis, Aaron Forrest, Ultamoderne

Architecture Mentor: Andrew Waugh (Waugh Thistleton Architects)

Engineering Mentor: Christopher Carbone (Bensonwood)

Material Supplier: Nordic Engineered Lumber

Four Corners re-imagines the traditional timber-framed New England barn using cross- laminated-timber (CLT). Mimicking the form of traditional barn gables, CLT is folded into complementary triangular shapes or ‘bents’ cut from the corners of a barn-shape primitive and reassembled. Four bents are cantilevered off of a central spine to create a single column assembly. When multiplied to form a field condition, several of these column assemblies are attached together for stability.

Unlike a traditional bent-and-gable structure, which is composed of separate elements such as structural frames, roof, and cladding, Four Corners is composed of a single material, which acts as both the structure and enclosure, allowing the traditional barn form to be turned inside out. For this installation, three interlocking column assemblies come together to form a porous sequence of rooms, corridors, and courtyards.


Coopered Column

Designers: Timothy Olson

Architecture Mentor: Alex Anmahian (Anmahian Winton Architects)

Engineering Mentor: Matt Johnson (Simpson Gumpertz + Heger)

Material Supplier: Fraserwood

One of the biggest challenges in tall mass-timber construction is end-to-end connections between structural elements. This is because wood is strong in the direction of the grain but weak in the cross direction. In addition, the volume of wood required for tall wood construction needs to be effectively distributed to resist lateral and vertical loads.

The Coopered Column addresses these challenges by expanding the cross section of a post in a typical post and beam structural system and turning it into a hollow tube, or ‘mega-column’. By lapping timbers vertically along the face-grain and connecting them circumferentially with rings of diagonally oriented timber screws (as in the coopers of a barrel), the many pieces of wood come together to form a continuous structural tube. The structure can be assembled on-site.

For this installation, a cylindrical mega-column is transformed into a cone and cut at an oblique angle. The resulting asymmetrical cantilevered form uses gravity to simulate vertical and lateral loads that would be imposed in an actual building. The form also demonstrates spatial and programmatic possibilities.



Designers: Christopher Taurasi, Lexi White and Jeffrey Lee

Architecture Mentor: Alan Organschi (Gray Organschi Architects)

Engineering Mentor: Ben Brungraber (Fire Tower Engineered Timber)

Material Supplier: Una-Lam

Contemporary engineered lumber reduces a massive material into thin sheets, or particles, and reassembles the pieces, gaining additional strength while using less material. Designed by Christopher Taurasi, Lexi White and Jeffery Lee, M2X3 replaces traditional timber framing joinery with a laminated veneer system, merging structure and surface. Recognizing New England’s wood building vernacular while exploring the potential of contemporary engineered lumber, M2X3 has crafted a progressive tectonic system for application in mid-rise construction.

Maximizing on the ability of wood to be used as both a tensile and compressive member; bending tests were conducted to determine timber’s ability to achieve complex curvatures with varying board widths. These tests showed the intensely diverse range of curvature achievable with wood, which are typically not investigated. This range proves engineered wood can diversify framing systems to more precisely adapt to climate constraints and urban site conditions. In addition, there is potential for variety of interior sectional configurations, whereas traditional timber structures rely on a limiting orthogonal post and beam assembly.

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