• Writing
  • Carbon Field Guide for Building and Design
    Aalto University Press
    August 2019

    In one sense the theme of this book is an accounting of construction materials and methods and all the energy we consume throughout the process. This includes everything from raw material supplies to the manufacturing processes that are needed to make building products, to assemble them into a building, to then use, maintain and repair the building over the course of its life, and—ultimately—to disassemble it and recycle its components. In this book, we also discuss the impacts of the built environment on landscapes, ecological systems and specific biomes as we strive to answer our growing need for more buildings and infrastructure. But essentially, this is a story about carbon. About it its role in forming human settlement and—as has unfortunately become apparent—in determining the future of the only habitable planet we know of.

  • Building Along the Carbon Transect
    Wood Urbanism
    November 2018

    A transect is an analytical tool used by scientists to survey quantities and their distribution. Repeated measurement along a given transect over time can describe the change or flux in quantity of a particular substance or population within a bounded area. Our line serves as a consistent reference along which we can measure the ebbs and flows of molecular carbon as it is absorbed and emitted over geologic, planting, or construction cycles. We can choose any degree of precision and use any scale to examine the atmospheric impacts of human settlement, whether an individual building or the massive aggregations of constructed habitation we call cities. The line is our carbon transect.

    For our purposes, a carbontransect is a conceptual tool, serving as a means of visualization and, perhaps, as a metaphor. We used it recently to describe to students and teachers the technical processes and environmental impacts embodied in the production of a new building we were designing for their school.

    The transect we chose to draw for them, which constitutes the subject of this case study, originates roughly 60 years earlier in northern Quebec below St. James Bay, where genetic material of the species Picea mariana germinated and sprouted as seedlings in the peaty soils of eastern Canada’s boreal forest. There, in the cold climate and short growing season of the subarctic, black spruce trees began the photosynthetic process of material formation, slowly but steadily laying on woody mass by absorbing a mix of atmospheric CO2, water, and solar radiation to produce the particularly dense and strong cellulose carbohydrate that would ultimately become the primary structure of the new arts and sciences center at the Common Ground High School in New Haven, Connecticut.

    link to publisher
  • Where's the Design in Design-Build?
    The Design-Build Studio
    November 2017

    I file this “field report” as a means of getting at what I believe to be an alternative promise of design-build education. A re-examination of this potentially potent teaching tool is especially critical right now. We have to solve a compounding set of environmental crises, many of them produced by the kind of avid technological thinking that is so much a part of our professional culture and which underlies any design-build project. The architect's disciplinary expertise will need to be radically transformed, its purview significantly broadened and the educational models that feet it entirely rethought to meet that gargantuan challenge. 

    Having now steered the studio component of a large design-build program for over a decade and having wrangled an array of resources, institutional partners, and an ever more diverse group of graduate students with different academic interests and professional goals, I have come to believe that its pedagogical value lies not just in the technical execution of a design, nor in the examination and implementation of a set of materials, means, and methods. Instead, I recognize the potential of a design-build program as an interdisciplinary research and design platform from which any student, even those with less technological interest and inclination, can reach out to explore and address, through a range of disciplinary approaches, any number of concerns implicit in a building project.

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  • Mass Timber as Structure and Finish
    STRUCTURE Magazine
    July 2017

    Among an array sustainable technologies at work in the Common Ground building, the implementation of emerging “mass timber” structural components is perhaps the school’s most novel feature. Designed to the 2005 Connecticut Building Code as a Type V-B fully sprinklered building, the new 14,600-square-foot addition to Common Ground’s campus features an innovative mass timber structure with a prefabricated system of wall and roof components developed by Gray Organschi Architecture and structural engineer Chris Carbone of the Bensonwood fabrication team.

    link to article
  • Timber City Innovation District
    Against the Grain
    August 2016

    The Gray Organschi studio explored the potential of new timber technologies in contemporary high-performance urban architecture in an experimental timber district in and around Ball Island on the Mill River, in New Haven. Through the design of four urban building types and their associated structural morphologies, students tested the capacity of a natural building material to produce beautiful and innovative architecture in the contemporary city.

    It has often been observed that wood is one of the oldest materials in our building culture, but it is also notable that—for well over a century, as the processing and construction technologies of steel and concrete (the two other primary classes of structural material) were revolutionized and then continuously refined—the use of wood and timber has been stuck in a kind of construction limbo, relegated to the limited scale of the craftsman's workshop or, worse, to the relatively light structural demands, but significant environmental destructiveness, of low-rise, suburban sprawl.

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  • Timber City: Architectural Speculations
    Timber in the City
    June 2015

    Consider this building material: a complex carbohydrate, synthesized biologically using solar energy and carbon dioxide, with an exceptionally high strength-to-weight ratio. The fibrous substance is formed by the annual introduction of tiny capsules containing a complex but naturally occurring arrangement of nucleic acids to the earth's soils and the regular recharging of that surface with rainwater and sunlight. A single capsule, costing nothing to produce or to distribute, is usually a little less than a centimeter in length and, depending on atmospheric, hydrologic, and soil conditions, can generate more than a metric ton of structural material in a little over 50 years.

    The supply is potentially infinite, and where extraction is wellmanaged, the landscapes that are its source will naturally and rapidly regenerate, providing critical environmental services such as well-oxygenated air, filtered potable water, and an array of marketable consumer products, all while protecting diverse biological habitats and sequestering significant amounts of atmo - spheric carbon. The energies required for its processing are low compared to other common structural materials. Residues left over from the material extraction process can be left as a kind of nutritive feedstock for future production, contributing either to increasingly compressed layers of carbon-rich soil or to a sustainable exchange of aerobic decay and carbon uptake. Similarly, processing waste serves as fuel for the manufacture of building products.

    If it weren't so patently obvious that I've just described wood, forests, and photosynthesis, this passage might read like an elevator pitch for a geo-engineering start-up or a book jacket for an eco-utopian novel.

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  • High Performance Timber at Yale
    September 2013
  • Multiplier Effect
    Mitigating Climate Change
    May 2013

    The suburban house—an emblem of the 20th century American Dream—has come to symbolize unsustainable excess in the new millennium. For the homeowner, the single family home is increasingly burdensome to finance and maintain; for planners and policy makers, suburban sprawl has undermined efforts to limit land consumption and mitigate anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While the link between sprawl and transportation emissions is wellestablished, the atmospheric impacts in the construction and operation of singlefamily houses are acknowledged but not as well understood. 

    Using a readily available lifecycle assessment tool and building modeling software, this study compares the carbon emissions of low- and high-density housing morphologies and weighs the lifecycle embodied energy costs against the operational energy benefits of increasing thermal performance in the building envelopes of each housing type. The assessment shows that in spite of increasing energy demands embedded in the materially and technically intensive construction of high performance assemblies, the adoption of these techniques in both the house and multi-unit apartment dramatically reduces lifetime GHG emissions. However, the initial toll of building high performance houses—measured in emissions and extrapolated as construction costs—is burdensome to the environment and homeowner alike. As an alternative, high performance apartments can be built at a carbon and dollar cost only marginally higher than that of conventionally-constructed multi-unit dwellings, with a per-unit lifetime GHG footprint that is one quarter of that of a standard house. The economic and land-use efficiencies of enhanced construction assemblies deployed in dense urban residential development create a multiplier effect in potential GHG reduction; a critical factor for contemporary environmental planning and policy.

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  • Material, Work and Resistance
    Perspecta: The Yale Architectural Journal
    September 2000