MARCH 2021

Towards an engineered -Timber civic realm for post- pandemic well-being, On hudson valley’s urban fringe

Eleni Stefania is a New York-based Architect and Urban Designer (M Sc in Architecture & Urban Design/Columbia GSAPP’20), focused on the interactions between water bodies and urbanism as well as regeneration of de-industrialized landscapes through living infrastructure. Her work is driven by a people-first approach, consonant with the deep context of a place, its scale, its materiality, its broader environmental-socio political and economic agendas and flexible to adapt to long-term future growth.

Global health pandemics or other environmental and socio-economic pressures are likely to become recurrent urban concerns due to the continuing repercussions-such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and wildlife habitat fragmentation on the urban-rural interface- that the augmenting human population and the unsustainable global urban expansion poses to the ecological systems that sustain our life and support our well-being.

The importance of vibrant ecological systems and the need for their integration into our everyday space planning (for instance more green balconies, park networks, and linked outdoor green public spaces in both our shared urban settings and private domestic spaces) in order to live, work and sustain our physical, emotional, and economic well-being are highlighted
by the continuing COVID-19 health crisis especially for those communities that lack adequate and accessible shared resources.

Acknowledging the connection between Covid-19 cases and poorer communities, as well as the historic systemic environmental health inequities of low-income neighborhoods regarding the lack of access to green spaces within walking distance with significant impact on health and overall well-being through reduced physical activity and ecosystem services loss, this proposal harnesses the potential of urban forestry to a more central place in post pandemic socio-economic recovery and long-term wellbeing.

The project mitigates these environmental and socio-economic pressures that a disruptive event like a pandemic poses on the urban setting and its inhabitants through transforming marginalized and vacant land to civic space amenities for immediate support of the community’s health and wellbeing in times of crisis[1] while keeping the economy alive by placing shared forest-plant based economic strategies in the spotlight as the main drivers for low impact environmental growth, self-sufficiency, access to resources or goods otherwise in scarcity in times of crisis.

More specifically, the project aims to repurpose 2000 acres of underperforming and marginalized land for shared timber farming in order to enact a more adequate synergistic relationship (socio-economically and environmentally) between the built space and the fragmented Hudson Valley’s Forest.

In Hudson Valley, most of the trees are privately owned, growing on land at the fringe of urban development Wildland Urban Intermix (WUI) [2]. Hudson Valley’s Wildland Urban Intermix land is currently environmentally and economically underperforming [3]. It demonstrates the typical unsustainable conditions present in contemporary rural American towns[4]: large-scale impervious surfaces that fragment the regional forest corridors, defunct industrial, commercial, and transportation infrastructure that demands innovative schemes for sustainable vegetative strategies and green infrastructure as well as hyperactive development potential in the near future that threatens the biodiversity of the remaining Greenfields, tree-covered areas, and accessible open green public spaces that are already significantly shrunk and ecologically undervalued due to the unregulated urban sprawl of the last decades.

The major economic engines of Hudson Valley traditional building materials and farming- are currently unsustainable under the current context of Climate Change and for this project these economies are acknowledged as already obsolete. Following this urgent need for climate-responsive economic reform and taking into consideration 2018 Timber Innovation Act[5] and the forthcoming 2021 IBC Engineered Timber update that both harness the potential of mass timber building elements manufacturing from sustainable-managed-forests as a viable option for reducing the built space’s impact on the environment in the years to come, this project investigates the utilization of timber farming as a catalyst for environmentally and socio-economically beneficial civic space design.

Tackling the large-scale U.S. monopoly of engineered timber products, the project envisions a bottom-up timber economy- a vertically integrated [6], resilient timber supply chain- as a way to incentivize private landowners to sustainably manage their own forests while directly accessing a shared infrastructure of researching, harvesting, manufacturing, and retail,
waste-recycling and branding for their timber product. By creating shared collaborative infrastructure for local forest and small-timber-business owners and entrepreneurs, new social partnerships, and equally distributed amenities will be created, boosting local economies while preserving the local and regional forest ecologies.

By sustaining long-term forest-plant-based economic development through this shared co-op system, Hudson Valley’s scaled-down timber industry will be funneled while a more socially adequate distribution of profits between diverse communities will be achieved. Composed of four entities, the Centerfor Resilient Forestry which is clustered with Wood Innovation Facilities, the Certification Centers, the Sawmill and Distribution Center with additional facilities for Recycling and Storage and Renewable Energy Generation, this project provides a lasting infrastructure that promotes a holistic framework for profitable and sustainable timber agroforestry that ensures the wellbeing of both the forest and its inhabitants.

[1] VanderGoot, Jana. Architecture and The Forest Aesthetic: A New Look at Design and Resilient Urbanism. New York: Routledge, 2018
[2] Forest Inventory Data Online (FIDO), as part of the U.S. Forest Service Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA)
[3] Benjamin, Vernon. The History of The Hudson River Valley. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2016
[4] Iturbe, Elisa. “Architecture And the Death of Carbon Modernity.” Log 47: Overcoming Carbon Form (Fall 2019): 11-23
[5] Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, H.R. 2-9, 115th Cong. ss 8641-8644
[6] Hudert, M. & Pfeiffer, S. Rethinking Wood: Future Dimensions of Timber Assembly. Basel: Birkhauser Architecture, 201

Image credit information: Eleni Stefania Kalapoda, Menghan (Meng) Zhang, Tian Hao, Kuan-I (Max) Wu

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