Mattaforma is a New York-based architecture practice, founded by Jean Suh and Lindsey Wikstrom, which draws on a parallel project of material and environmental research to conceive of the built environment as an actionable medium towards a more equitable planet. When planning out the people we wanted to collaborate with for the Nursery, this duo was a natural choice. Dive into our interview with them below.
What does sustainability mean to you?
It means having clarity about the unseen impact of our decisions as designers and working to make decisions that improve both the environment we are actively designing in front of us and the unseen environments that those decisions are inevitably affecting. Designs that don’t explicitly address environmental justice, whether through an advocacy of diverse ownership throughout the supply chain, reduced embodied energy, reduced operational energy, reduced waste, or an improvement in biodiversity, can actively inherit extractivist qualities and protocols from the past. We are living in a time of transition toward plant-based diets and cities, and there is a great opportunity to use this transition to rewrite who benefits and in what way.
Sustainability and implementing ecological insights to achieve harmony between the natural and constructed worlds are at the core of your design process, what do you see as the biggest hurdle to reaching that balance?
The biggest hurdle is an inherited assumption about our relationship to nature. We automatically inherit the philosophy that humans have dominion over nature and thus humans are separate from nature. If we consider humans and human things to be natural, we might start considering both forests and cities as natural phenomena. If we consider that humans and nature have a reciprocal relationship rather than an extractive one, we might start considering both forests and cities as designed environments. Forests are by-in-large spaces of design and maintenance, same as buildings. More trees are replanted by design in the US than are harvested. To achieve the harmony you speak of, if timber is to be used for buildings in the City, the City should be on the hook to give something to the Forest in return. This kind of reciprocity requires relationships and limits to be established on both sides of the equation. Cities shouldn’t build with more materials than Forests can grow. Construction rates should be tied to weather and the speed of certain regional tree species. Forests should be designed not to optimize construction material but to also ensure our air and water remain clean, and that biodiversity thrives. A lot could change if we truly shed this age-old assumption about the relationship between humans and nature.
If you could share one piece of advice to people on how to better support the planet what would it be?
First, consume less. Second, reuse what you already have. Third, if you must consume, buy ethically managed plant-based goods.
Are there any new materials or processes in use in the design / architecture of the space that you’re particularly excited about?
So many! We’re interested in materials that have low embodied energy and can scale in urban environments like stone blocks for columns, beams and foundations, stabilized and unstabilized rammed earth, compressed earth block, biodiverse mass timber (cross laminated timber, dowel laminated timber, laminated veneer timber, glue laminated timber, mass plywood panels etc), wood nails, wood terrazzo, wood insulation, rice husk cladding, hemp blocks, plastics made from recycled single use bags, concrete pumped with carbon to offset itself, fiber-reinforced mycelium, bio-based resins and adhesives, and many more.
What design element was your favorite to develop on this project?
The relationship between the existing steel on site and the new timber structure. We imagined ways to use the steel for its thermal and structural properties and to minimize the amount of new material required to create a place for plants to thrive.
Is there an element or detail of this project that’s like an easter egg?
If you’re a real timber nerd, you’ll notice that the truss cords are mirrored. We learned that mirroring them is typical, but this design has more or less the same strength, and happens to be more beautiful in our opinion.
How would you describe your approach to designing the Nursery? Was there anything new or different you employed?
For The Nursery, we used Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) to build the trusses and as the joists for the roof. LVL is made with small diameter trees, which help the forest in a number of ways. First, small diameter trees are typically species that aren’t as valuable for lumber, which means they are actively cultivated less often. In a society that doesn’t yet provide credits for biodiversity, when a species is cultivated less and has less value, it can become vulnerable to extinction. Forests that are linked to the economy and grow valuable wood are forests that are well cared for. A poor forest is not going to be as resilient in the face of climate change. We like to employ as many species in our timber work as possible because of this and hope that our projects incentivize New York grown biodiverse mass timber products in the future.
The Nursery officially opens May 28th with an eclectic series of day parties every Sunday until October 8th. Tickets are available on our DICE. It will also be officially open for private events, get in touch here if you’d like more info.