Mind & Matter


Diagramming Wood Flows

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Virginia Wood Flows. Diagram courtesy of the University of Virginia School of Architecture.


Given our fundamental reliance on material resources, it is bizarre that the average consumer knows so little about where materials are harvested and processed. Thankfully, architects are increasingly delving into the complex and mysterious world of material life cycles in order to provide a clearer picture of resource utilization.

One compelling example is a recent design studio led by University of Virginia architecture professors Lucia Phinney and Lionel Devlieger. Entitled “Tools for Conviviality,” the studio focused on the Virginia wood industry, seeking to clarify the life cycles of various wood species and uses in the state, with the intent to propose more environmentally friendly methods of material reuse.

One of the most intriguing outcomes of the studio is a set of diagrams depicting wood flows. The diagrams indicate the different types of wood processing employed, the relative volume of material for each process, the various markets served, and the amount of wood reused or disposed. The diagrams demonstrate the extent to which successful graphic depictions of well-researched data can demystify complex systems and help material industries make informed choices about resource utilization—an inspiring example of architects taking a leadership role within an increasingly resource-sensitive economy.



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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.