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Wood Would (excerpt from Common Sense)


Wood Would
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How biomaterials bring us together socially and ecologically.


I have -lately- been thinking and building almost exclusively in

wood. I might just keep going for the rest of my life.

My fellow wood architect Michael Green, from Vancouver,

argues that construction materials should have the same kind of

labeling as processed food products, indicating their nutritional

value in the feasts we prepare for our clients. Volatile resins

and carpet glues are about as good for us as sugary bubblegum

made from old car tires; concrete has been cooked at colossal

temperatures and has various dodgy byproducts; aluminium has

traveled across the world (most likely from Australia and China)

onto your plate, picking up a few food miles on the way, like

Kenyan green beans in midwinter.


Wood, however, might very well sprout next to your

building site: chop it down, cut it to size and serve, perhaps

seasoned with a drop of oil. Chances are there will be a good local

wood chef, decreasing transport, improving your immediate

economy and creating social bonds between ‘farmer,’ carpenterchef,

designer and inhabitant-consumer. The local chef is always

at hand for some repairs or modifications in due course, and

you can even try your hand directly: wood is perhaps the most

democratic material. It’s conditional, inviting, open: wood

would like to please, to be maintained, to be improved, to be

taken in hand, to start a conversation. A formerly living thing,

it’s not just a metaphor to say that it has character: it stands

before us as a witness of time and growth, we identify with it,

it reverberates with our personality, it is a correlative for the

human. It’s no accident that theatre-makers from Shakespeare

to our time have warmed to its presence: it sets the scene, brings

life and energy and a sense of possibility. It is of the present and

the past, dead and alive, solid and light, possessing in its knots

and grain the chameleon, elastic time-character we examined

earlier in the theatre.


It gets better: before you serve it up it has been faithfully

sucking carbon dioxide out of the air all its life, to the equivalent

of half of its adult mass. By using it in construction -rather than

burning it or letting it fall and rot- you are actually improving

matters, capturing the carbon as you create shelter. Even for a

tiny building like my Elizabethan Theatre this is a big deal: the

net benefit of our 400 cubic metres of spruce and larch is the

mirror equivalent to driving in a diesel car twenty times around

the planet’s circumference.