Concrete, steel, and glass dominate the palate of building materials used in new developments. Building and fire codes made wooden frames a thing of the past, but a design competition called Timber in the City recently challenged architecture students to create a mixed-use development using "innovative wood technologies." Specifically, this means the use of relatively new things like cross-laminated timber (CLT), a fire-resistant engineered wood building material that's strong enough and rigid enough to replace steel (the Times wrote a great CLT 101 article last summer). The goal of the competition, sponsored by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, the Binational Softwood Lumber Council (yes, that's a thing), and Parsons The New School for Design, is meant to "catalyze" the industry and governments to "recognize the potential of larger-scale wood design and construction in cities," so they chose a design site in a neighborhood unlikely to see a new wooden building: Red Hook, Brooklyn.
The site is located across Beard Street from the Red Hook IKEA and to the west of the Added Value community farm. It's currently occupied by a bus parking lot. Designs had to use wood as the primary building material, and they had to include affordable housing, a bike share shop, a wood production facility that could produce materials for buildings, and a smaller digital wood fabrication warehouse and learning center.
The winning design, Grow Your Own City, came from a team at the University of Oregon, and it's a system of modular pods made of CLT panels. It consists of low-rise housing with one higher tower, and additional low-rise buildings would hold a restaurant, bike shop, and the wood warehouse. The structures surround a "green alley," an eco public park that harvests rainwater, hosts solar panels, and rehabilitates the natural habitat. The jury liked the layout of the apartments, which range from 350-square-foot studios to 990-square-foot three-bedrooms, as well as the "sensitivity to zoning, politics, and concerns of gentrification."
A team out of the University of Texas at Austin produced the second place design. This project also puts CLT in the spotlight. Because most CLT production occurs overseas, the first phase of Cultivating Timber established a facility that can fabricate CLT panels from timber available in the Northeast. Thus, the buildings will be constructed with all local materials. The factory is located on the second floor to protect against flooding (the first floor would hold admin offices and a showroom), and a public lawn would draw people up to the factory level. A residential tower made from CLT panels with flexible floorplans would rise above the factory.