A Pattern Language
'Wood City' applies mass timber engineering to the 19 standard real estate products that essentially shape our cities but are ignored by high design culture. The equivalent of 92 percent of nonresidential space that existed in the U.S. in 2010 will be built or rebuilt by 2030. The U.S. will have practically doubled its built environment in just one generation. Given climate change projections and the urgency for developing low-carbon futures, what if cities were built from the only building construction system that sequesters carbon and can be engineered to be “energy positive”—wood? Mass timber buildings are a form of climate protection since they store carbon.
According to planning author Christopher Leinberger in "The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New Urban Dream," 19 standard real estate products—mostly suburban offices, fast food restaurants, metal warehouses, big box grocers, garden apartments, single-family houses, hotels, self-storage facilities, assisted living facilities, neighborhood shopping centers, etc.—constitute 75 percent of the built environment. These building sectors are premised on short-term investment logics that reward use of cheap construction systems with high embodied energy costs and other negative externalities. Currently, these real estate products (Wall Street does not even call them buildings) are more financial and logistical expressions of space than architectural achievements. Using cross-laminated timber (CLT) prefabrication and glulam technology, 'Wood City' develops sustainable pattern languages for these building blocks of America’s low-density metropolitan sprawl. While patterns are aligned with new development trends redefining each product category, each pattern can link up using grammar-like rules to create new placemaking possibilities.
'Wood City' is Generative
The real estate development value chain is being recast in sectors like fuel retail, fast food, grocery, and warehousing, while new venture-capital interventions are hybridizing housing, hospitality, healthcare, and the senior services markets in value-adding ways. Accordingly, 'Wood City' rethinks common building typologies through factory-based timber-engineered building platforms as an alternative to concrete, steel, and light-framed wood construction. CLT technology is gaining acceptance in North America, but only among elite clientele.
Innovations in timber-engineered buildings to date have been associated with signature projects involving tall buildings, institutions, and commercial structures. However, the ordinary low-rise building types comprising most of America’s auto-oriented landscapes hold the key to revolutionizing its carbon footprint through better building, urbanism, and land use. Wood City introduces mass timber technology into the development value chain where many of these ordinary building sectors are already undergoing novel mixings of space, services, technologies, and experiences. Anticipating new flexible real estate product platforms like co-living, logistics facilities with public places, and office-as-garden, 'Wood City' proposes a new architecture of the ordinary.
The challenge, then, is to diffuse the innovation/research typical in high design to the city’s ordinary building blocks within their existing cost structures. How might design fulfill the functional and economic obligations for, say, a fast-food restaurant, while offering collateral benefits: expressions of publicness, renewed senses of beauty, enhanced responsiveness to livability, function, and context, and an architecture that anticipates its own adaptive reuses over time? Anticipating new real estate product platforms like co-living, logistics facilities with “third places”, the office-as-garden, and the fast-food restaurant as a food hall, 'Wood City' accelerates the evolution of ordinary form. 'Wood City' remakes the built environment from the “throwaway” real estate building sectors while turning low density metropolitan fabrics into carbon sinks.
The University of Arkansas Community Design Center is an outreach center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, and one of a few university-based teaching offices in the United States dedicated to delivering urban design work. Originated in 1995, the center advances creative development in Arkansas through design, research, and education solutions. Nationally recognized in public-interest design, the center has its own downtown facilities and 5-6 professional design/planning staff, some who also teach. Beyond the focus on urban projects, UACDC has developed eight place-making platforms to shape civic design and public policy at state and municipal levels. These interdisciplinary platforms include 'missing middle housing,' 'agricultural urbanism,' 'transit-oriented development,' 'context-sensitive street design,' 'watershed urbanism,' 'big box urbanism,' 'smart growth,' and 'low impact development,' vocabularies which are locally articulated but hold universal currency.