The City above the city: designing for preservation and intensification

new york city
© New York City additions

Wood is a wonderful building material, particularly for low and mid-rise buildings, when it is sustainably harvested and when it is displacing carbon-intensive concrete and steel.

Wood is also light compared to concrete, easy to work with and easy to transport. That’s why a design competition being run by Metsä Wood is so interesting. They make a product called Kerto, a laminated veneer lumber (LVL) that they describe as “incredibly strong and dimensionally stable”. The idea of the competition is to promote the idea of intensification by adding on to existing buildings rather than demolishing and replacing, and doing it in Kerto and other wood products.

cadding in paris drawing© Metsawood

THE CITY ABOVE THE CITY initiative challenges architects and students of architecture from around the world to push the boundaries of modern wood building design in the urban environment. Entrants are asked to select a centrally-located building in one of the world’s most populated cities and develop an innovative wood design solution that adds density through additional floor area. Known buildings, especially buildings under threat of demolition are encouraged as sites for revitalization, new development and innovation.

city above city© Metsawood

This is a really important idea, one that is being lost these days to those who think that we should be done with the old, and should replace it with new taller buildings. Who call anyone who wants to preserve existing fabrics of cities “nostalgists and NIMBYs” when in fact there is so much room to build on what we have already. It can give the market urbanists what they want, namely greater density and more residential units, while making the preservationists happy by saving the existing buildings.

And there are a lot of roofs that could take more density; In one example, the City of Bonn, they found that 27 percent of the buildings were suitable for building an extension, creating more than 20,000 apartments.

If you look at cities like New York or Toronto, there are thousands of low-rise buildings, particularly outside of the core, that could be treated this way, preserving the characters of the streets, the grade based uses and the other occupants while adding units.

addition© Metsawood

It must be noted that this is not easy. As an architect I actually added two floors to existing buildings in Toronto, in three different projects. As soon as you change an existing building, you are subject to new earthquake and wind load calculations, often requiring serious bracing. Foundations and columns often have to be beefed up. Extending elevator shafts and moving rooftop mechanical equipment is challenging, particularly if you are trying to keep everybody in the building happy while you do it.

But it is such a wonderful idea, running a competition that could inspire architects and developers, demonstrating new ways of having our cake and eating it, marrying intensification and preservation. And of course, doing it in wood.

Enter at Metsawood.

Tags: Design Competitions | Materials | Preservation

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