Forest Framing 

Jitske Swagemakers

Sheila Kennedy

Mark Jarzombek
Paul Mayencourt

This thesis reimagines forest and architecture through the design of a set of mutual relationships. It integrates wood research with local knowledge and tools to restore forest ecology and boost rural economies. The proposal is situated in the context of Sweet Home, Oregon, a former logging community on the edge of the Willamette National Forest. Like many small towns across the United States, Sweet Home is in a state of social and ecological crisis, combating high poverty rates and dwindling resources. Industrial mills are abandoned, homes are patched in varying states of decay, and the surrounding forest is reduced to arrays of Douglas Fir.

Through a close reading of the reciprocal relationships between forestry and wood construction, this thesis outlines a series of wood construction techniques to repair buildings and restore forest habitat. These techniques provide accessible and economical systems of framing, placing special emphasis on the diverse materialities of wood in its natural form, wild wood. Driven by the natural properties, the thesis outlines categories of wild wood, found in the Willamette national forest. The harvesting of wild wood helps prevent the risk of wildfires, allows for cultivation of fire-adapted plants, and does not contribute to deforestation.

This thesis imagines a restorative future for Sweet Home through deploying wild wood in the gradual adaptation of local buildings to the time scale of the tree. The first intervention is the transformation of the abandoned mill into a collective wild wood shop, in which wild wood construction techniques are implemented and executed by a cast of Sweet Home community members. The wild woodshop offers a site for wild wood prototyping and experimental forestry that enhances the material and ecological qualities wood and feeds back to the forest.
The second series of wild wood adaptations is at scale of the home. Simple interventions in and on the surfaces of the building, create symbiosis between the town of Sweet Home and the forest. Plates detailing the technical elements of wild wood wall, and roof systems, along with construction manuals, build on the community’s receptivity and proficiency to work with wood and are informed by ethnographic research consisting of site visits and interviews.

This thesis contributes to a reappropriation of wood in architectural construction and offers an economical solution that promotes symbiosis between forestry and architecture. It mobilizes local community members and serves as a catalyst for social empowerment to revitalize the town and its surrounding forests. Wild wood architecture must acknowledge the contributions made by forces that are non-human. This project proposes that wood is an actor as well as a source, and as an actor, that it provides for the shared futures of forests and forest communities.