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The discovery of free resources as a by-product of an advanced technological society offers designers the opportunity to explore innovative ideas, forms, and processes.  In addition to innovative exploration, these materials can act as a catalyst for social criticism. The transformative potential for salvaged wood was the catalyst for a studio dircted by Lionel Devlieger and Lucia Phinney at the University of Virginia School of Architecture in the spring of 2011.  The studio created the body of work that is presented here.  The studio directs public attention to 21st century wood waste for its compelling appearance, as an element in a cyclic process, and as a most useful material for experimentation and full-scale fabrication.  The first two projects of the semester (5 weeks) were a fast-paced re-visualization of the creative and sustainable potential for wood waste through research.  Following an orientation to conventional + CNC/parametric wood fabrication techniques (two weeks), the final project (7 weeks) built on the initial research with the design and construction of a full-scale prototype for a local client using salvaged wood and/or waste wood products.

Project 1        Wood Flows:  tracking Virginia forest products from whips to waste

Project 1.  In the macro terrain of Wood Flows:  tracking Virginia forest products from whips to waste? students tracked flows of wood originating in central Virginia and moving through Peter van der Linde’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Zion’s Crossroads, and on to the end of the cycle as biomass. These pathways included volumes of material flowing through production facilities for lumber, manufactured wood products, furniture, modular components, etc., as well as the conveyances and practices that connect one process to another.  Students queried the constraints that  hamper a closed wood cycle.  On the other hand, they focused on opportunities to salvage wood debris along these paths:  how it is or might be done, and what possible use this salvaged wood can be put to. Through sketches, process diagrams, photographs, maps, and fact sheets, the students assembled a wide-reaching and objective view of contemporary practices in the building and landscape industries in Virginia, as well as a set of questions about the potential to make wood a real ‘cradle to cradle’ product.

process research

Students visited 12 wood facilities, documented the processes and practices, and created a visual explanation. They were careful to note the source of any feedstocks, the nature of any additives, and the presence of by-products or waste products.


A team of students created maps showing volumes of wood produced for different purposes in Virginia together with  forest product facilities.  The sites visited are noted on this map.


As the process research was underway, students constructed a diagrammatic model and a flow chart as a means to document the flow of wood through Virginia.

process videos

Students created a video record at most of the wood facilities.  These were especially important in conveying the experience of these site in terms of sound and scale.

Project 2        A Gallery of Monsters and a collection of products and by-products

Project 2. The related full-scale study, A Gallery of Monsters,  is inspired by Rotor’s 2008 German exhibition, Deutschland im Herbst.   Students researched industrial wood production sites selected from the coincident wood cycle study to discover waste products that are compelling for their appearance, their properties, their design potential, and for what they tell about the specific mode of production. This research resulted in an installation of live samples, studio photographs of these samples, and  fact-sheets that  describe both the production process and the resulting waste.

These two intersecting projects formed the content for a NAUG installation and gallery talk in March 2011.

Project 3        Rapid Education for Fabricators

One team of students students, arriving in the studio with different levels of experience with wood, were asked to design and complete a personal wood joinery curriculum. Some students focused on conventional wood joinery, while others worked with computer numerically controlled (CNC) joints.

Another team was asked to set up and complete a set of cast concrete tile experiments using wood as formwork or filler.

Project 4        Non-Profit Clients + Wood Salvage Construction

After learning key craft techniques, student teams worked with local non-profit agencies to design and construct useful artifacts from salvaged wood.  The material for these projects was sourced locally. The teams quickly developed a network of friends in the construction industry to help find the necessary materials.

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