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Extraction: Conversations about Climate Change - Design Competition & Exhibition

‘Extraction’ by Kashdan Brown Architects

In the Summer of 2020, Kashdan Brown Architects were one of six winners of an international open design competition, Conversations About Climate Change, run by the Building Centre, London in association with the Timber Trade Federation. As a result, our design proposal received funding for manufacture and is now part of an online exhibition at The Building Centre.

‘Extraction’ on display at the Building Centre (photo: Chris Jackson)

The Conversations about Climate Change competition brief sought design proposals that would feature hardwood timber and prompt people to consider Climate Change. Our proposal ‘Extraction’ is a direct physical representation of the demand for timber across the world, and how uncontrolled and unmanaged extraction of this timber will - and already has - resulted in over-depletion of this valuable resource.

Extraction is a single machined cylindrical column of Sapele hardwood with 194 horizontal holes drilled through the heart of the column - representing the demand from every country in the world. The result is a column in which structural integrity is reduced to a critical state with barely enough resource remaining to support itself. If we take any more timber from this column without first putting some back, it could collapse entirely. Its fragility illustrates the consequent worldwide environmental instability that exists.

By connecting haphazard over-extraction with resulting physical instability, we believe our piece makes a very direct statement about climate change. There are many details of the design that enhance that connection with a global conversation such as the 360-degree nature of the holes and their greater density and demand towards the equatorial centre of the column’s height. The form and instability of the column itself evokes connections with the felling of forest trees.

Competition entry image of the design for ‘Extraction’ by Kashdan Brown Architects

Even the manufacture of the final piece provoked a related conversation. Concerns that so many holes might cause such instability that the piece would collapse led to a number of them being omitted by the manufacturer. We are all good at seeing these problems on a small scale, but something more is needed if we are to address the problems at a global level – where those holes have not been omitted!

‘Extraction’ in the workshop during manufacture (photo: Charlie Palmer)

After decades of environmentalists highlighting the extent to which rainforests and forests are being felled and reduced in full knowledge of national governments, something is beginning to emerge: Although voluntary so far, FLEGT is a standard that governments across the world are being asked to adhere to. It is complementary to the high standards of FSC-certification, but without it there is still the potential for countries to import and sell timber that has been illegally and unsustainably extracted.

Worldwide Deforestation Map (Maplecroft, 2012)

With growing concern over the contribution that buildings and construction make to carbon emissions, we have recently signed up to Architects Declare to actively promote design responses to the climate emergency. This has already meant turning away work from clients without similar consciences and aspirations. However, we must continue to do this if we want to make a difference. We would like to make more of a difference than our own progressive designs can achieve, through inspiring others to be similarly progressive – so hence this blog.

Locking in carbon through the use of timber in construction, in preference to other products with significant embodied energy, is a significant step forward. However, issues regarding construction finance, perceived fire spread, scale limitations, durability, performance, and long-standing building methods are slowing extensive uptake. We are also concerned that, like biomass, universal uptake may not be sustainable, and complementary natural materials should be used in conjunction with them – such as cellular clay blocks in place of concrete products and complicated cavity wall insulation systems. This will be the subject of another one of our blogs coming soon….

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