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The clear choice: Wood design ideal in the South

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
July 24, 2017

As a supporter of green building design, I am also an advocate for wood construction. Wood is imbued with some amazing physical properties; it’s natural, it’s renewable and, as a design element, it’s esthetically captivating.

That’s why architects like me, including those of us living and working in “The Natural State” of Arkansas and across the U.S. South, view timber from a responsibly managed forest to be a crucial tool in our design toolkit.

Arkansas is called “The Natural State” for a reason. We’re a place that very much wants to work with forests as a renewable resource because wood in our region isn’t just plentiful; when sustainably managed it’s a superb material — aesthetically, structurally and environmentally.

Wood design also connects people to nature. And designing with certified wood, managed and harvested according to strict standards, is good for the environment because these standards promote responsible forest management, which includes measures to conserve water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and ways to help recover species at risk.

While I’ve been designing with wood for my entire professional career, and have used local, certified wood in my projects as much as possible, the rewards for using certified wood have been limited. Without greater market incentives to use certified timber from Arkansas, our own regional resource was underutilized by green architects.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s recent launch of a new alternative compliance path now allows for more options for certified wood to be recognized.

As the largest forest certification standard in North America, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) can help meet the growing demand for certified products from architects like me — not just in Arkansas but in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and elsewhere.

While SFI is a leader in forest certification, the organization also has a broad mandate that includes elevating conservation values as well as fostering community engagement across Arkansas, the rest of the U.S. and Canada.

And SFI’s commitment to research partnerships in our region is equally critical to healthy future forests.

I can’t tell you how important it is that all our timber-growing regions can now be a larger part of the sustainability conversation. It can only encourage everybody to strive to do a little bit more. Now, more than ever, our own regional timber resource is available to green-minded architects, and that means our forests will have greater value, and we’ll want to grow more trees. It’s a classic win-win.

My bottom line is simple: we can’t afford to ignore this great natural resource — we really need to use forest products from well-managed forests because they help our economy and environment in ways that benefit society at large.

That’s why I’m enthusiastic about the progress made in our part of the world by SFI in ensuring there’s a credible, locally available third-party forest certification standard to offer a proof point that our forests have been properly managed for environmental, social and economic values — today and tomorrow.

For my own part, I grew up in a small Arkansas town surrounded by forests. As kids, we hiked up into the hills and forests virtually all the time. I fell in love with wood — and with counting the grains and seeing when the droughts occurred, locating when the water was plentiful; to me it was about natural story-telling.

So, it’s no wonder I was later amazed by the works of Arkansas’ Fay Jones, one of our greatest architects and a genius at designing with wood; think of Thorncrown Chapel, just outside of Eureka Springs or any other of his beautiful chapels. Later, our firm’s designs for Heifer International Headquarters, or Camp Aldersgate Commons Center, would also showcase wood and help forge a strong connection with nature. Fact is we’ve made wood a key element in practically every building we’ve designed.

Certified products and green building design are powerful trends that I’m proud to be associated with. But it’s equally vital that we’re able to use these local and regional forest resources that are at hand.

Because in that way, everybody wins.

Dustin Davis, AIA is an associate with Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects. He is based in Little Rock, AR. 

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