According to the Forest Products Laboratory, a whole, unmilled tree can support 50 percent more weight than the largest piece of lumber milled from the same tree. Putting this principle into practice, Whole Tree Architecture is dedicated to building with materials that lumber companies consider scrap – weed trees, also know as ‘managed forest thinnings.’ The resulting projects are beautiful displays of locally sourced and sustainably managed materials.
Not to be confused with a traditional log cabin, building with whole trees is a sustainable, affordable building philosophy Roald Gundersun has been refining for the past 16 years. As much a forest management process as it is a building technique, Gundersun uses only local, small diameter — 10-inches or less — trees culled from the client’s site, and larger trees already downed by disease or wind. Trees are selected based on forest stand density and invasive species management as well as structural integrity and aesthetics. There is no milling, transportation, or bulk curing.
The benefits are economic as well as ecological. According to WTA, “…whole tree construction invests a greater proportion of its costs into local jobs and materials than conventional construction and also promotes healthy forest management for local timber resources.” Gunderson’s philosophy is holistic; every aspect of a project — design, engineering, construction and craftsmanship — is considered in light of the local ecology and economy.
While Whole Tree Architecture is obviously not feasible for everyone, it is certainly a brilliantly forward-thinking solution for the small farming community in Wisconsin where WTA is based. In our opinion, their use of local labor and local, renewable, and sustainably-managed materials offers a prescient vision of a vibrant, green future.
Photos by Paul Kelley for The New York Times