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Ashen’s Cabin Architecture

The 10,000 ash trees in Cornell University’s 4,200-acre Arnot Forest in Ithaca, N.Y., faced an alarming threat: The curators detected Agrilus planipennis, commonly known as the Emerald Ash Borer—a beetle that threatened billions of ash trees in the U.S. and Canada. The ‘unfortunate’ trees, which end up withered are even rejected by lumber mills.

Architects of Ithaca and assistant professors at Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and founding partners of local firm Hannah, Leslie Lok and Sasa Zivkovic saw an opportunity utilize the trees in a more nature friendly manner.

“People are working on remediation, but a lot of trees will be dying,” Zivkovic says. “We think they are an enormous material resource and should be used for construction.”

The outcome is a cozy little Ashen Cabin with 3D rendered concrete footings and an envelope made from infested ash wood, it acts as a reminder how unconventional building materials and technologies influence the design of residential projects. “You start with the intention of looking at how we can use these materials differently, or to develop novel architectural expression,” Lok says. “It allows us a larger range of tools and materials that we can design with.”

The architects looked at developing the cabin’s foundation, their experience at Robotic Construction Laboratory (RCL) came in handy as a large-format three-axis gantry 3D printer was used to create hollow footings for the cabin’s foundation.

Once the hollow footings were done, concrete shells were used to fill with poured concreate blocks of foam at the centre of each large footing.

The architects subsequently consulted the senior extension associate for the Arnot Forest, Peter Smallidge, to select the most suitable trees that had been destroyed by the beetle infestation.

Lok and Zivkovic used an iPad-based scanner to generate precise digital models to determine the best way to cut each log, and sent those models to a 5-horsepower band saw, custom-built for the RCL, which sliced boards of varying thicknesses that exaggerate or minimize the wood’s curve. Waterproofing was conducted through the use of a system of screens and biodegradable foam combine with the low-moisture wood. Windows at varying heights allow natural light into the spare, 100-square-foot interior. Each wall contains a different necessity: a sink and camping pump, a 3D-printed concrete fireplace, and a bench (the only furniture).

“We have demonstrated that this is a viable method to use these infested trees,” Zivkovic says. “Hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to scale this up into a full residential project and then further.”

Project Credits
Project: Ashen Cabin, Ithaca, N.Y.
Client/Architect: Hannah, Ithaca, N.Y. . Leslie Lok and Sasa Zivkovic (principals); Byungchan Ahn, Alexander Terry (wood fabrication/design); Xiaoxue Ma, Alexandre Mecattaf (wood studies); Freddo Daneshvaran, Ramses Gonzalez, Jiaying Wei, Jiayi Xing, Xiaohang Yan, Sarah Bujnowski, Eleanor Krause, Todd Petrie, Isabel Branas, Xiaoxue Ma (wood assembly/documentation); Christopher Battaglia, Jeremy Bilotti, Justin Hazelwood, Mitchie Qiao (concrete); Reuben Chen, Alexandre Mecattaf, Ethan Davis, Russell Southard, Dax Simitch Warke, Ramses Gonzales (concrete assembly/documentation)
Scientific Support: Cornell Robotic Construction Laboratory
Forestry Consultant: Peter Smallidge
Size: 100 square feet
Cost: Withheld

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