By Hilary EdesessMay 19
Dine in Detroit area restaurants such as Blu Fin Sushi or Public House and you’ll find yourself “eating off the floor.” Former floor beams are reborn as table slats thanks to Workshop Detroit, one of several international design studios into the cycle of sustainability. Already known as an eco-friendly material,...
Dine in Detroit area restaurants such as Blu Fin Sushi or Public House and you’ll find yourself “eating off the floor.” Former floor beams are reborn as table slats thanks to Workshop Detroit, one of several international design studios into the cycle of sustainability.
Already known as an eco-friendly material, professionals are focusing on the treatment and usage of timber from growth to decomposition, understanding that this determines its environmental impact and changes the way we design.
The Life Cycle Assessment
The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) has defined a way to measure and compare the sustainability of wood with the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The LCA considers the carbon footprint of wood products through each step of their lifecycle including growth, extraction, processing, use, reuse and disposal.
“One of the reasons we like to work with American Hardwood is that they’ve done life cycle assessments on their stock from the forest,” Benchmark co-founder Sean Sutcliffe told ArchiExpo in an interview last year.
“The input assessments as [the timber] arrives in our workshop are calculated and validated. We then add in all our input as manufacturers. So we add in any input in terms of other material, energy use (from a renewable or nonrenewable source) and wastage.
“Wastage of the timber is critical because we power and heat all our workshops, which are really big workshops, on biomass. Our first choice is to use wastage in its second life for smaller products, but if it can’t be reused for a second life, we send it to biomass. That, of course, accumulates carbon credit so we get sequestered carbon that’s locked up in the timber.”
Presented during Milan Design Week 2016, Along the Lines of Happiness was an experiment between artist Laura Ellen Bacon and furniture maker Sebastian Cox for AHEC (credited for the video above). Laura Ellen Bacon confirms in an interview with ArchiExpo that the Life Cycle Assessment was completed.
Forest Management and Transportation
The AHEC carefully selects the timber forests they work with, purchasing from small companies or individuals who harvest by timber extraction instead of clear felling. By cutting selective trees within a forest, the canopy and soil remain intact for better regeneration without removing habitat.
Once cut, the AHEC evaluates transport energy needed with its Life Cycle Assessment. AHEC transports timber thousands of kilometers to designers such as U.K. based Peter Marigold or Mathias Hahn. Transporting by sea, according to studies published on the AHEC website, uses less energy per kilometer than transporting by land, with roughly 6,000 km traveled by sea for every 500 by land.
The most recent USDA Forest Inventory Analysis found that American hardwood forests increase by 130 million cubic meters per year after harvest; 100 million cubic meters in the U.K. Manufacturers can then take advantage of the possibility of cutting timber from American forests without stripping the forests, where they may be more cautious of cutting in the U.K.
“It’s about the balance of what you use in the market to what your forest is growing,” David Venables, European director of AHEC, told ArchiExpo in an interview last year. “If this isn’t maintained, it’ll never be sustainable no matter how many certificates you have. It’s also not just about growing the trees, but how you use the material.”
Local Resources & Recycling
“We only work with the best quality materials that are sourced as close to home as possible and always from forests that are sustainably managed,” Benchmark furniture explains on their website.
Nearby, Joost van Veldhuizen of VanJoost, whose studio is located in the wooded countryside of Holland, finds it natural to create with the woods that surrounded him. “For me, it was the easiest way to start making stuff,” Veldhuizen told ArchiExpo. “I was unschooled, had no expensive machines. It was just the wood and myself.”
In Detroit, where early 20th century wealth lead to architectural innovation before decline and bankruptcy, reusing wood of abandoned homes inspires a generation of eco-minded designers like James Willer, co-founder of Workshop Detroit. When Willer began Workshop in 2008, there were more than 70,000 abandoned homes. The houses provide old-growth lumber, originating from aged forests that can no longer be commercially bought.
Similar to Workshop, whose products reflect not only local materials but the recycling of materials, Danish furniture company Sika builds with teak wood reclaimed from Indonesian fishing huts, boats and rail supports. Louise Andreasen, CEO and granddaughter of the Sika founder, told ArchiExpo that Sika likes the rustic look of reclaimed wood. The reclaimed teak pieces compliment their furniture built in rattan, a sturdy palm tree from Indonesia that regenerates in only five to seven years.
Mind Your LCA
To teach designers about the life cycle, AHEC collaborated with British furniture company Benchmark on the Wish List project in 2014. Ten top designers, including Paul Smith and the late Zaha Hadid, were invited to “order” their dream project from young designers like Nathalie de Leval and Gareth Neal. Then the established designer partnered with the emerging designer to create the product. All objects were subject to AHEC’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
“Wood has shaped our lives,” Benchmark co-founder Terence Conran states in the video for The Wish List. “To me, you can’t design something properly unless you understand how it’s made—and indeed, not only made, but used.”