I’m flying across Canada this week to speak at the Wood Design Awards at the new green-roofed Convention Centre in Vancouver. My theme? It’s time to embrace wood as the building material of the 21st century. Too many of the world’s carbon emissions come from the manufacture of concrete and steel. (The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that for every 10 kilos of cement created, six to nine kilos of CO2 are produced.) Wood speaks to our minds and our hearts, like this tree house delicately suspended by cables without any tree-damaging nails. Lyrically designed by Farrow Partnership Architects for the 5-star E’Terra eco-resort located in the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, near Tobermory, Ontario.
Wood satisfies our deep, ancestral connection to nature’s beauty, which has been traced back to the magnificent acacia tree
with its complex fractal geometry in the African Savannah.
Wood is the most ancient building material. But construction methods have stayed relatively primitive. This is the log home built by my great grandparents, Barney and Sarah Griffith when they left Minnesotta and travelled on the C.P.R. to homestead in Saskatchewan. That was back in the late 1800s. That idea of basic wood construction (2 X 4 wood frame construction) still dominates the housing sector.
Standing underneath the vaulted ceiling in our upstairs living room feels a lot like being suspended below a canoe. Actually, oak flooring was applied piece by piece (by a patient and talented architect turned craftsman) to the ceiling – one member at a time – much like the construction method used by my great grandparents.
It’s time to modernize the wood building industry. Cross-laminated timber can give plenty of structural muscle to civic and commercial architecture. Designed by Montreal’s Saucier + Perrotte architectes this soccer field celebrates the power of wood architecture – and points to the future of spirit-warming, eco-friendly wood.
Expect wood architecture – even all-wood towers – to start splashing out around the world. This free-wheeling atrium is part of Wood City, an all-wood development sited on a former cargo harbour in Helsinki, Finland. The client is the forest company Stora Enso; Anttinen Oiva Architects are the competition-winning designers. Looks like being inside the belly of a whale. Or a canoe.
Here’s a Scandinavian version of meditative space: the kamppi chapel of silence by Helsinki-based K2S Architects. The solid, windowless building blocks out the sound of an overly cluttered mind or city noise – useful when the roar of vodka-inebriated soccer fans visiting Helsinki from Russia becomes overwhelming.
CNC-cut glue-laminated elements make up the structural framework of the building with spruce wood planks used for the cladding of the chapel. The client was the City of Helsinki and Helsinki Parish Union. (Images Tuomas Uusheimo.)
The Cube, designed by the talented, young Canadian studio 5468796 Architecture, sits like a jewel in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District.
Designed with twisted aluminum, custom-fabricated by a Hutterite colony, the malleable screen surrounds a room of concrete – reminiscent of Tadao Ando – which serves as a popular stage and event space. As a private meditation space, you could lose yourself in the reflections.
Closer to home is one of the most enchanting, unscripted meditative rooms: Wolf Lake, Ontario. Where the walls and the sky roof change with the seasons.
Waking up. Looking up to the morning sky. Past an artful split of wooden timbers. (Designed by Suppose Design Office, Japan.)
Showering in style. Training the bears to pass the soap.
Breakfast delivered in a basket. I did not make this up: On the small island of Saynatsalo, several hours north of Helsinki, Finland, breakfast in a basket was brought to me one early morning by a woman who worked for the Alvar Aalto Museum. I’d been invited to sleep over in one of the guest rooms available within the Aalto masterpiece, the Saynatsalo Town Hall. Imagine how good the coffee tasted while I gazed upon the courtyard of the Town Hall and listened to the soothing sounds of the fountain in the reflecting pool.
Closer to home, when spring is still wrestling with winter, there’s the comfort of sheepskins, good books and a fire to transition from morning to afternoon.