Tall wood on the horizon

October 27, 2018

Screen shot 2018-10-27 at 1.45.24 PMGrace Jeffers, an artist and “wood sourcing expert” from Chicago, uncorked a pretty good line the other day at the Wood at Work conference at the faculty of architecture, University of Toronto.
Architects need to learn more about where wood comes from, so that they can move away from specifying in their drawings cliché species imported from unsustainable clearcuts in the rainforest, such as ipe, she said.
If architects were better informed about the provenance of wood, said Jeffers, “Rem Koolhaus would never have done the Prada shop in zebrawood.”
There is a lot packed into that statement. Mixing a starchitect with a coveted brand and an exotic wood (and a shop in New York’s SoHo district) neatly encapsulates the debate about how Canada might gain respect as a forestry superpower. Conference organizers, in my understanding, were trying to jumpstart the conversation about how Canada might begin to show off the natural spendour of our copious wood resources in the buildings that we erect. Screen shot 2018-10-27 at 2.32.30 PM
In Toronto where I live developers are obsessed with poured concrete towers, even though wood is plentiful, stores carbon and makes for much more beautiful and comfortable dwellings and office environments.
U of T wants to erect a 14-storey wood tower on Devonshire Place, thanks to a collaboration with Ontario’s Mass Timber Institute and my own Faculty of Forestry. Unfortunately the money may be drying up with the new Progressive Conservative government at Queen’s Park.
The Tories have a lot of support in northern Ontario, where the trees grow. The university, which needs the new wood tower, must make the case that more timber buildings in Toronto means more jobs for all the people who work up north in the mills and logging operations. Timber companies, for their part, must convince urban Canada that loggers and foresters harvest with care in the crown forests, to ensure the forest is healthy and able to renew itself. Christine Leduc of EACOM, a Montreal-based forest products company, worked hard (on the same panel as Jeffers) to reassure us about EACOM’s forest stewardship and tree-planting efforts. To give a sense of this conference’s range, we also heard Leslie Parker of the Renewable Energy International Institute invoke Pope Francis 1’s Laudato Si, his encyclical on the environment.
All of this made for a good conference, though some of the architecture folks seemed a bit frazzled to have a whole crowd of foresters tramping through their building. Yes, a representative of Sawmill Sid did speak, and Dorian LavallĂ©e did slice up a big cherry log with his Wood-Mizer portable sawmill on the west side of the building, but I’m pretty sure our steel-toe boots didn’t track any wood chips into their hallowed temple of design. When architects and foresters work together we can create great beauty to improve our poor beleaguered planet.