Turning Beetle-Infested Wood to Good (Design) Use

beetle pine photo

Images by B. Alter

Of all the new architecture built for the Vancouver Olympics, the Richmond Olympic Oval is the jewel in the crown. Its clean soaring lines and 17 graceful arches that make up the wood ceiling give the building grandeur and elegance.

But the really interesting part of its construction is the material used: one million feet of wood infested by mountain pine beetles, a plague which has killed millions of pine trees in the province.

van stadium photo

Designed by a Canadian and an American, part of Cannon Design, the roof encompasses 6.5 acres and has arches made of wood and steel which span 310 feet. Between the arches are panels consisting of pine beetle kill wood. The roof is believed to be the largest surface ever-covered in beetle-affected wood - proving that the wood remains structurally sound and attractive. The building will be converted for use as a community facility after the games.

arches cannon photo

Image by Fast + Epp

The pine beetle has killed almost half of the pine trees in British Columbia. Forestry officials estimate the volume of wood lost to be around 620 million cubic metres - roughly equal to 15 million logging truck loads.

The pine beetles lay their eggs under the bark of the pine trees. When the larvae hatch, they feed on the inner bark of the trees, thus cutting off the tree's supply of water and nutrients. They also carry a fungus that stains the wood blue or grey and destroys a tree's natural defences against the attack, so it is a double blow of killer larvae and a fungus.

The sources of the problem seem to be fire suppression and climate change. With less logging taking place there are more trees standing than would naturally occur. The winters are no longer as cold so temperatures don't get low enough to kill them off. Mild winters have decreased the winter mortality rate from the usual 80 percent to less than 10 percent.

pine chairs photo

Image from Inhabitat

The good news is that designers and contractors have come up with some innovative ways of using the wood before it rots. The infestation does not affect the strength of the wood. Trendy new companies are pushing the blue-stained wood as a sign of "green-ness", selling unique blue "pine beetle" siding, flooring, furniture, trim, paneling, and picture frames.

These chairs have been created for Far Coast for use in the company's social areas, including the Athletes Village and Media Centre during the Olympics. They held a competition amongst students at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver. The winners had their design mass produced; they were made by the University of British Columbia's Woodworking department. The asymmetrical design of the chairs allows for two versions (left and right hand version) with only a minimal increase in manufacturing costs. Go Canada Go.

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