Mind & Matter


When Old Growth is Good

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23.2 House by Omer Arbel Office. Photo: Nic Lehoux


The modern industrialization of timber and the depletion of old-growth forests have resulted in an increased quantity of engineered lumber products composed of lesser-grade materials. Today’s laminated veneer lumber, plywood, and particle board contain higher percentages of glue and filler materials than prior lumber products, and are less tolerant of the shrinking and swelling that results from moisture penetration and water vapor diffusion.

Although harvesting old-growth timber for contemporary architecture is challenging and environmentally controversial, reusing existing old growth lumber presents many benefits. For the design of the 23.2 House, the architects at Omer Arbel Office inherited a deposit of large Douglas fir beams that they used as the primary structure. Although the beams varied in length, the architects decided not to cut them as a matter of principle—resulting in a triangulated, origami-like roof shape. According to Omer Arbel, “The roof is thus a secondary landscape which we deployed in the site to delineate domestic space and its relationship to the exterior.” As this project demonstrates, the reuse of existing resources can inform intriguing design strategies as well as elevate material quality.




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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.