Atlantic Cities

Red Hook, Brooklyn: The Unlikely New Home of the Timber Industry?

What happens when the timber industry sponsors an architectural competition? You get this: Earnest plans for a new mixed-use project in Brooklyn that looks anywhere from a wooden-shutter factory to the barn of a giant Amish farmer.

"Timber in the City," put on by the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, and Parsons The New School for Design, hews closely the BSLC's avowal, "That wood is good is virtually a foregone conclusion." More than a thousand architecture students and professionals nationwide submitted ideas for a mid-rise project to address the Red Hook neighborhood's housing needs, with affordable units, a bike-share hub, a job-training facility, and rather unusually, a center for the "innovative manufacturing of wood technology." This structure is not scheduled to get built, by the way, as this contest was more of a thought exercise about the wonders of lumber.

Professors and prominent architects selected two big winners and a few runner-ups, and they all split a $30,000 prize. Here are the entrants who wowed the jurors the most with their timber-based schemes, beginning with the University of Oregon's first-place proposal, "Grow Your Own City." This proposed development employs "cross-laminated timber" and also what looks like a slice of the High Line, but is actually a "green alley" studded with educational materials about the timber industry:

Second place was taken by a team from the University of Texas at Austin, who envisioned plopping a manufacturing facility onto Red Hook that would then knock out pre-fab wooden pieces for the housing development. This strategy would cut down on emissions caused by the transportation of building materials, the architects assert, as the raw lumber would be shipped on eco-friendly barges from forests along the Hudson River and Erie Canal. "The seed of timber will be planted in Red Hook," they dream, "reestablishing it as a center of relevant industry in the 21st century":

Look at the size of that bike-share station:

Here is Virginia Tech's bluntly named "House of Wood," a factory monolith and the first of four honorable mentions. From the project's description: "The material layer of the outer façade is a weave of wooden cladding enveloping the structure as a singular object during the day. At night, light from inside pierces through the weave revealing the complex activity level of a typical New York urban structure":

The University of Washington's "Swamp Machine" imagines an industrial complex that's overgrown with vegetation. "Soon the land is manipulated, carved back to the water, given back to the people, the swamp has returned to Red Hook," say its creators. "Next industry drives, manufacturing for survival, opportunity and progress; the building builds itself into the community." Is there any way to get the Gowanus flowing through here, too?

"The Habitat" is the University of Southern California's entry, a "realistic project" that uses an endless series of shutters to gently filter light into the buildings. The structure is raised off the ground to prevent flooding in case another Superstorm Sandy blows into the city:

Finally, a group from MIT offers this woody wonder, the "Courtyard Cathedral," made from something called glulams:

Images courtesy of ACSA and ReThink Wood

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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