From innovative British Columbian skyscrapers to classic row houses in East Baltimore, I’ve explored various ways in which architects are helping to usher in the versatile, CO2-trapping wonders of wood to an urban context.

And then there’s Timber in the City: Urban Habitats, a recently wrapped-up design competition in which architecture students and recent graduates were invited to submit proposals for a “for a mid-rise, mixed-use complex that addresses New York’s urban housing needs.”

The catch?

Entrants in the competition were required to, in an innovative manner, incorporate wood as a primary structural material in their proposed designs.

Like many student design competitions, entrants couldn’t just plop their proposed wooden mid-rises in any old part of New York City that they pleased. Timber in the City — organized in partnership by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), the Binational Softwood Lumber Council (BSLC), and Parsons the New School for Design — was very much a site-specific affair with said site being located in the peninsular waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn. This salty, scrappy fishing village — competition literature refers to Red Hook as being “in some flux, cut off from much of Brooklyn geographically, yet increasingly vibrant” — is already home to converted Dumpster micro-dwellings, blue and yellow fortresses, urban farms, and yours truly.

For those familiar with the area, the site itself is the bus lot on Beard St., just down the road from IKEA.

Explains a recent press release:

The competition focused on a site in the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, with a population of public housing residents and working artists and designers, and a number of new residential and commercial developments. With a focus on regenerating the urban manufacturing sector and addressing housing needs, entrants, working individually or in teams, were tasked with incorporating affordable housing units; a bike sharing and repair shop; as well as a vocational, manufacturing and distribution center for the innovative use of wood technology.

The competition brief further details the role of timber in the proposals:

The competition will challenge participants to interpret, invent, and deploy numerous methods of building systems, with a focus on innovations in wood design on a real site. For thousands of years, solid wood has been used as a building material. Timber is an ideal green building material: it is well suited for a broad range of structural and aesthetic applications, it offers high performance characteristics; and wood is an economic driver to maintain forests and protect jobs in our communities.

Yesterday, the winning entrants in the Timber in the City competition were announced after being scrutinized by a panel of six leading architects and designers (including none other than Mr. Wooden Skyscraper himself, Michael Green) on the lookout for outstanding proposals that demonstrated an “ability to integrate wood as the primary structural material while meeting the needs of the Brooklyn waterfront community.”

First place went to “Grow Your Own City,” a modular building concept from University of Oregon students Benjamin Bye, Alex Kenton and Jason Rood that “strives to technically and aesthetically celebrate the new building technology of Cross Laminated Lumber (CLT).”

The Grow Your Own City complex would be composed of prefabricated CLT pods assembled at a factory and transported to the site where they're stacked atop each other like LEGO blocks:

The pods are stacked on the Red Hook site to form low-rise housing and a tower, with the CLT panels acting as both load-bearing and shear walls. The CLT pod is designed and engineered according to the Cross Laminated Timbers material properties.. The façade is panelized with both solid CLT and floor to ceiling windows. Each pod type, whether a studio, living space, or bedroom, is assigned a quantity of shear panel and glazing that forms a pattern on the façade, giving it both regularity and variety.

The University Oregon team goes into more detail about the overall aim of Grow Your Own City:

Grow Your Own City aims to enhance the energetic life and community of Red Hook, building on its rich natural and cultural history and serving as a catalyst for urban regeneration and economic growth. The project would create affordable living units that could support a wide range of daily activities, inspire healthy community relations and establish and celebrate the natural forest and ecosystem of the Northeast United States. The bicycle shop, Timber Restaurant, and green alley highlight Red Hook’s vibrant cycling, culinary and eco-friendly culture. The green alley on the interior of the site adds a valuable urban park area to support recreational activities, neighborhood and community functions, and festivals. The green alley is designed as an educational walk, explaining the lumber industry and the creation of Cross Laminated Timber and other wood products. Lastly, the green alley supports sustainable practices of rainwater harvesting, retention and reuse, solar energy collection through photovoltaic panels, habitat rehabilitation and ecosystem recovery.

Bicyclists and foodies. Sounds about right.

The jury was rather smitten with the concept behind Grow Your Own City:

This winning design comprehensively solves the major elements of the competition program and gestures towards new thinking in relation to timber construction and wood technology. This realistic and pragmatic scheme is appropriately scaled with a nice variety of building heights. Each building describes a distinct form of construction, and the application of wood at all three scales is handled beautifully. There is a mature sensitivity to zoning, politics, and concerns of gentrification. This design exemplifies smart urban planning by placing the warehouse on the industrial street and creating a new pedestrian street behind, which is an incredible relief for the neighborhood. The residential units are well thought out; most have windows on two sides and the corner units are nicely articulated. Overall, the project is strong because it maps out the terrain of the site while remaining consistent to the larger neighborhood in terms of plan, context and materiality.

Second place prize went to “Cultivating Timber,” a proposal submitted by Christopher Gardner, a student at The University of Texas at Austin. Honorable mentions were awarded to students and recent graduates from the University of Washington, Virginia Tech, M.I.T., and the University of Southern California.

Lots more information about the winners and the competition itself over at the ASCA. It’s also worth noting the projects will be on display as part of a traveling exhibition that's making stops at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons (Oct. 24 - 31), Greenbuild 2013 in Philly (Nov. 20 - 22), and more.

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