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Re: GBlist: Good Wood

Good wood ... bad wood. Funny use of terms. Culturally wood has been
'bad' more often than 'good'. Wood in the sense of forested places,
places to avoid. I would venture to say that we have probably never been
comfortable with wood unless it is in some vanquished, processed,
'wooden' state. A text definition of which is stiff, clumsy, without
animation or flexibility, inexpressive. Again a funny term not one that
really defines our usage of the material but culturally a term that
might express our relationship to it or the history of our relationship.

The contradiction is that we cannot live without wood, living wood - the
stuff that makes up a forest. The catch is that forests do not seem to
survive in our company. Forests are dying and in the opinion of many are
already dead. They are not and never can be what they were and the
remaining question  is can they survive as they are. An american
biologist (whose name I forget) working on reconstruction of a forested
area in Costa Rica said something to the effect that it is no longer a
question of being able to preserve what was but of making decisions and
playing a role in what is and what is to come.

As to the use or disuse of wood or any other material the decisions are
so complex and cultural that I can never think of any particular usage
of a material as being positive or even rational. I like Terry's comment
about the issue being the reduction of mass and energy flows through our
economy and the economy being what we pay to live on earth. I think of
the economy of a structure as what it costs the earth to support it -
both its construction and its day to day maintenance. When I tell
clients that I try to design structures that promote health I also tell
them that the health I'm referring to is not theirs but the environments
but that there could be some benefits to them.

I use a lot of wood in my projects and the contradiction is that its use
at this time helps to maintain this area as a forested region of the
world and that is my principal reason for using it. I think of my
relationship to the process and material usage as one of stewardship or
perhaps husbandry is a better term, where I am as responsible for
maintaining the viability of the source of the material as I am for
defining its end usage. Selective cutting of 2nd or 3rd generation
forested land and adding economic value to that cutting by defining it
as a sustainable building material has the ironic net effect of
increasing cultural value in that land and hopefully extending its
life as forest. Its not a good marriage because I know that each tree
that I have removed from a local forest represents future soil and
nutrient loss for the entire forest and that cumulatively such loss
might kill a forest. But I also know that I have the potential of
drawing more building material from these sources than if they were
given over to gravel extraction or straw production - with less
commitment of additional resources and maintaining our forested
canopies has probably more benefit to the world than anything else we
could possibly do.

John Salmen
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