Fieldworks | Designing With Northeast Forests

Tri-Lox & Yale F&ES


Can designers collaborate with local forests?
How do our practices impact forest conservation?

YALE-MYERS FOREST | EASTFORD, CT


The answers to these questions begin by understanding where our materials come from and how they are sourced. In an effort to grow our business responsibly, Tri-Lox launched Fieldworks: a research-driven branch of our company that strives to define and innovate sustainable practices across the industry.

Our inaugural Fieldworks project in collaboration with Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (Yale F&ES) examines how to source fresh-cut wood in a way that’s not only sustainable but regenerative for our regional forests. This research culminated in a summit at the Yale-Myers Forest: Architectural, urban, and landscape designers connected with foresters to discuss ecologically progressive practices across the fields of design, engineering, and manufacturing.

The Research

What is sustainable wood?

Tri-Lox began as a company that worked exclusively with reclaimed wood, sourcing our raw materials from deconstruction projects in and around New York City. As the business continued to grow, we needed to expand our sourcing capabilities to include fresh-cut wood, but also scale our infrastructure in a responsible way. We began our research with Yale F&ES in order to make this change without compromising our core mission of building a business predicated on sustainable practice.

Our work over the last two years examines how a regional supply chain (rather than a global one) can foster thriving forests, a more robust local economy, high quality, cost effective materials, and more transparency for all stakeholders. However, building this process also requires changes to current practices. Our Fieldworks summit at the Yale-Myers forest in mid-October lay the groundwork for implementing these changes across the field.

The Experience

Going into the field

The largest private landholding in the state, Yale-Myers Forest is an active working forest laboratory for cutting-edge research, education, and public engagement conducted by Yale F&ES. Designers joined foresters, environmental scientists, local forest stakeholders, academics, and craftspeople to collaborate on sustainable theories and practices.

Forest Tour:

Yale’s 7,840-acre educational forest reflects the richness and diversity of the Northeast’s woods. Led by Yale’s Director of Forest and Agricultural Operations Joe Orifice, a walk through this ecosystem reveals layers of history that include indigenous communities, sprawling farmland, and a resurgent forest.

For foresters, managing the land means making decisions that will foster regeneration and biodiversity. Removing certain trees, for instance, opens up a crowded canopy, letting in more light and ultimately creating new growth. Extracting trees sustainably is as much about what gets left behind as it is about what is removed. This is why being specific about where our wood comes from is so important: By sourcing wood from foresters and loggers committed to regeneration, we’re investing in the health of our forests.

Sawmill Demonstration:

The process of sawmilling provides an up-close look at the autobiography of a tree. What might conventionally be considered irregularities are also details that make each piece of wood unique ⁠— and a look into its history.

The mechanics of transforming logs to lumber also shows us how a tree becomes an architectural element. Our discussion about this aspect of the local wood economy ⁠— scales of production, cuts, grading, and the demand for wood ⁠— presents new opportunities for the use of wood to reflect the biodiverse nature of our forest.


Sustainable wood is sourced from a forest that’s in better condition as a result of removing the tree.

Presentation:

This AIA CE Health Safety Welfare (HSW) presentation delves into Tri-Lox’s collaborative fieldwork with research fellows at Yale F&ES. Expanding upon concepts touched upon in both the forest tour and sawmill demonstration, it is a guide for how designers can engage with local forests to drive positive ecological, environmental, and social change.

By opening up channels of communication between foresters and designers, we aim to bring more transparency to all parties and initiate a more collaborative process. Working with regional materials and local economies creates an opportunity for experts across the field to understand the full context of their own role in the wood economy — and how routine design decisions can have a larger impact. A Northeastern supply chain bolsters a local economy and sustainable practices across rural and urban spaces, creating an interconnected, symbiotic relationship that acts as a bridge between urban and rural life.

Local Food:

As abstract as the term “sustainability” can seem, the concept stretches across most aspects of our everyday life. The food system runs parallel to our wood supply chain: sourcing food locally allows us to support local economies and ecosystems and gives us better understanding of where our food comes from and how it was grown. For this first Fieldworks summit, the Highland Dinner Club — a social and culinary laboratory founded in Harlem, NY in 2009 — prepared a multi-course dinner and brunch from regional sources. HDC’s founding chef and Creative Director, Benjamin Walmer, is also founding architect of Broadloom Group, an interdisciplinary design practice with diverse specialties including restaurant design, food systems design, and agricultural master planning.

Brunch Roundtable:

The summit culminated in a discussion between all participants about how we actually define the term “sustainable wood”. Beyond that, how can the concept be applied to day-to-day, project-to-project decisions that will ultimately drive a more eco-progressive agenda across the field of design? Can we create a robust, inclusive, and informed approach to make the direct connection between sustainable design decisions and real impact for local forests, communities and larger climate initiatives?

We view this as the beginning of an ongoing conversation: By communicating and working together ⁠— and by understanding what questions to ask and what standard practices to question ⁠— we begin to initiate change. Sustainable wood is sourced from a forest that’s left in better condition as a result of removing the tree. This notion demands that all of us consider not just where our materials come from, but whether we can fundamentally help shape market demand in a way that benefits the forest.

Get Involved

Putting theory into practice

Final Thoughts:

Fieldworks’s research-driven collaborations aim to make eco-progressive practices grounded and actionable, creating growth and business opportunity that supports regenerative design. As both a resource and an innovator in sustainable wood, we will continue to pursue collaborative research, industry discussions, and design practices that shape our own business and the field at large.

Join the Discussion:

We are available to give our AIA-accredited presentation on the Fieldworks initiative. Contact us to learn more.

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