Mind & Matter


The Woodpile Evokes an Age-old Dilemma

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Noa Biran and Roy Talman, Woodpile. Photo by Henk Von Pickartz.


One of the oldest known materials used in construction, wood posed an intriguing dilemma for early builders, who had to decide whether to make shelter with it or burn it for heat. The manifestation of stored sunlight and carbon, wood is an unusual building material that offers the choice of creation or destruction. In this moment of choice, “the primitive hut and the primitive fire are revealed to be inseparable,” says Luis Fernández-Galiano. It is “the singular and unrepeatable moment, in which architecture is born in myth, in rite, or in consciousness.”

The Woodpile pavilion demonstrates this dilemma interactively. Designed by architects Noa Biran and Roy Talman for the Warming Huts competition in Winnipeg, Canada, Woodpile is a simple shelter that doubles as a firewood storage device. Surrounded by a cordwood-filled metal frame enclosure and protected by a simple roof with an outlet for smoke, the Woodpile invites visitors to participate in an immediately recognizable ritual. However, decisions have consequences: the dry-stacked cordwood wall does have insulating value (if minimal) and protects against the wind, so burning the wood provides increased heat in the short term while reducing protection from the elements in the long term. The pavilion also presents the possibility of complete destruction if too large a fire is built.

By combining and equating the possibilities of shelter and fire, the Woodpile reduces architecture to its most primitive goals. Fernández-Galiano would no doubt be pleased.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.