SASA ZIVKOVIC: The scale of the problem is so unimaginably large. Just in New York alone, the amount of dead ash trees that we have-- it's really a pity that they're not being used for construction.
Every tree that we use here is a tree that doesn't turn into firewood, is a tree that's not rotting and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, and is a tree that we don't have to cut down elsewhere. Cornell alone has 100,000 ash trees on Cornell land and a lot of these trees are going to die. And so the big question is, how could these dying ash trees become a useful resource?
LESLIE LOK: The cabin, on one hand, is a response to the emerald ash borer crisis and how we can upcycle the material as construction material-- the trees. And then second is that we could leverage emerging construction technology to find new processes to reappropriate this material.
What the robotically slicing of the wood allowed is the mass customization of the production with these logs. And it really changes for us the paradigm of a construction that we shift from something that a typical 2 by 4 with construction, to something that is much more based on the nature of the raw material.
SASA ZIVKOVIC: It was important for us to demonstrate that this process can be used for actual real world construction. So it's important that we are doing a cabin which is a small house as opposed to an installation. So this has very specific architectural requirements.
We need to make a door. We need to make a window. We need to produce a roof. We need to insulate the space. We have 3D printed the fireplace. We have included seating and a small kitchen. One of the important research questions architecturally is, how do these new processes of construction from the bottom up inform the architectural design process?
LESLIE LOK: One of my favorite moments is when you're standing here and you look at it. And then, the curved log just kind of produced this texture of the bark. These panels here comes from one log.
SASA ZIVKOVIC: So that view then reconstructs the log. To move away from mass standardization and towards mass customization is a much broader discussion within the architecture community and building industry. And so in that sense, this project outlines one possible trajectory for these new futures of construction.
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Using custom-cut lumber from ash trees damaged by the emerald ash borer, assistant professors of architecture Leslie Lok and Sasa Zivkovic designed and fabricated a cabin from wood that otherwise would have been left to rot. The culmination of a three-year project in collaboration with architecture students and Arnot Teaching and Research Forest staff, the Ashen Cabin was completed last summer. Its component parts were fabricated at the Cornell Robotic Construction Laboratory, directed by Zivkovic as a unit of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP).