Michael Walch

Amazon Studio Final Review

Posted in Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio by michaelwalch on 4 May, 2010

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I presented my final project yesterday from the Leslie Gill/Mike Jacobs Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio at Columbia GSAPP.  The jury included Sunil Bald of Studio Sumo, David Benjamin of GSAPP & The Living (New York), and Keith Kaseman of KBAS.

I spent the semester analyzing deforestation trends and flows of lumber through the Amazon.  I realized that clear-cut logging was actually a precondition to further deforestation by other notorious forces: agriculture and cattle-ranching.  Also, the current approach of trying to police the forest is doomed to failure – 23 field stations, each with a small team of officers and 125 thousand square kilometers of territory is simply impossible.  Even if we believe that the field station can police the territory assigned to it, there are still huge holes in the coverage.  (See the first few slides mapping this.)

The proposal shifts from a reactionary/policing model to a pro-active/regulatory model.  As an architect, this has very specific geographic and spatial ramifications.  The roads through the Amazon are intense collectors of both people and forest products.  We can use them both to deliver the social services mandated by the government (such as health care and education) but notoriously lacking in these remote areas, as well as support a legitimate, sustainable logging industry.

The architectural challenge is to bring these disparate groups together.  Each of them offers resources to the other – information about the forest, medical services or education, experience in saving habitats, or security.  This is akin to a multicultural space – salad bowl and melting pot must both be facilitated because both are beneficial.  The architecture serves as a screening device which at times (on the ground floor) keeps the groups separate, with carefully orchestrated circulation and views, while also allowing for open dialogue and exchange (on the upper level).

The research and proposal was generally well-received.  Architecturally, it was pointed out that the sectional ideas were much less developed than the plan relationships.

David Benjamin brought up more social and political issues of the funding or organizational structure for the facility, and its relationship to the town of Novo Progresso.  There is a lot of hope in the environmental community that new logging concessions and other extractive uses could provide funding for this kind of project.  Additionally the facilities could be a conduit for investment by NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund – environmental NGOs in Brazil often have the role of grass-roots enactment of government initiatives, and that could continue in this project.  The relationship to Novo Progresso is interesting – I had thought of the prototypical site as more rural than the site I chose to develop (just a few miles North of the town).  The workshop and small showroom I proposed was meant to work with the scrap materials of the lumber process, but clearly in rural environments there would be other very useful goods to bring in from the outside.  In other words, a 7-11 might be more useful than a craft shop.

Sunil Bald saw my project as an adaptation of the Brazilian highway road stop; a place for waiting, engaged in car-culture and consumption.  One of my goals was to take components of the amazing Brazilian architecture we saw on our trip – the outdoor rooms, attention to shading, rich textures applied to modernist structures.  I’m not much of a road-trip-er myself, but actually have a voyeuristic love of car culture, so I will definitely think about this in future projects.  Taking this advice the project could be more unapologetically a strip mall/truck stop, where people stop along a longer journey.  It could then open up to new modes of transportation along the roads – a Grayhound station, perhaps – alongside the lumber.

Lots of food for thought from the review.  Of course for now I have to get back to finishing up other classes…

P.S.  Thanks Carol for helping with the amazing Portuguese name: CeCim – Centro Comunitário de Certificação da Indústria Madeireira


Exploring Tectonics

Posted in Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio by michaelwalch on 1 April, 2010

Some model studies of how to build a wall system with log cut-offs.  Other possible wasted materials are woodchips/sawdust and thin veneer strips which are too small to make dimensioned lumber.

The model is at 1/2″ = 1′-0″ scale (the wall would be about 20′ tall at full scale).  It is 12″ tall, 6″ wide, 3″ deep, made of bass wood.

There are 4 diameters of ‘logs’ from 9″ to 24″ – this is roughly what you’d expect from Amazonian timber.  The depths vary from 12″ to 24″ – 24″ is the maximum because logs are cut to length in 2′ increments.  The smaller the logs in the stack, the less light is let through, and vice-versa.  The larger diameters were really too bulky on their own within the 4′ (horizontal) space between vertical frames – they need more smaller pieces.

Projects informing my work:

The Dominus Winery by Herzon and DeMeuron

The Tokyo AirSpace by Thom Faulders

The Mortensrud Church by Jensen & Skodvin Arkitektkontor

Midreview Work

Posted in Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio by michaelwalch on 1 April, 2010

Our midreview was March 3, 2010.  Jurors for my project included Laura Kurgan of the GSAPP Spatial Information Design Lab, Guiseppe Lignano of LOT-EK, and Joeb Moore of the Undergraduate Architecture Program at Barnard.

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The phenomenon I documented was the advancing arc of deforestation due to clear-cut logging – logging on the move.  I am using the network of roads to monitor logging, encouraging more sustainable practices while also adding value to the lumber through transparent certification.  Stations are located along roads like BR-163, in three contexts: deep forest, a logging town, and a cleared forest (farming) area.  In each of the three contexts, social services and environmental monitoring are piggybacked onto the industrial and enforcement activity.

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The Moving Logging Fronteir

Posted in Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio by michaelwalch on 23 February, 2010

I generated my own maps based on data from IMAZON Geo.

The moving logging fronteir. Black dots are logging 'poles' - groups of sawmills - scaled to their volume of timber output. The average sawmill lasts only 7-10 years before being dismantled and moving on.

The SISFLOR monitoring bases. Each of the 23 bases, concentrated in the 'arc of deforestation', monitors an area of 200km radius through satellite, GPS, GIS, and field data.

Loggers on the move

Posted in Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio by michaelwalch on 21 February, 2010

Logging in the Brazilian Amazon is intrinsic to the process of deforestation.  The location of logging centers or ‘poles’ (sawmills) define a sort of frontier of deforestation.  Loggers rarely own the land from which they extract timber and other products.  Primarily they are hired to clear land as a first step (and capital-gathering) in the process of clearing and turning that land over to agriculture or cattle-grazing.

Here is a map of that phenomenon, from Schneider, R.R. et al. Sustainable Amazon: limitations and opportunities for rural development. World Bank Technical Paper no. 515 (Environment Series), Washington, DC, 2002.

Basically the sawmills use rented, cheap equipment and don’t own the land they are logging, which sets up a perfect environment for disregard of the protection of the natural resources of the land, and inefficient use of the resources extracted from the forest.  The typical lifespan of a sawmill facility is 7 to 10 years.  It’s no coincidence that this map looks like an advancing army – it represents the front line of deforestation (in the Amazon, the ‘arc of deforestation’).  What if we could diffuse these facilities across a larger area, so that they can be harvested less intensely per unit area?  How can we keep loggers in place?  Keeping them in place would require that they maintain the forests.  Emancipating the loggers from the agricultural and cattle interests could allow them to adopt more sustainable methods of logging.

There is already a very sophisticated monitoring system in place in the Amazon – called SISFLOR.  It combines information from IBAMA, including land title and conservation/extraction activity permits with satellite monitoring of deforestation and fires, and on-the-ground observations tracked with GPS devices, and overlays everything through GIS software.  This takes place at 23 monitoring stations, concentrated around the logging poles (the arc of deforestation) – each one has a monitoring radius of about 200km.

Informed by the SISFLOR system, IBAMA has an approval stamp for legal lumber – for initial origin, transport, and export or consumer-ready.  That stamp is valuable!  All of the forestry certification processes have come from consumer demand and willingness to pay premiums for sustainably harvested forest products – this is one way to not only ensure that consumers are getting what they pay for, but also to transmit that revenue to loggers (many who are small companies or families) who are working within Sustainable Forest Management Plans (PFSM).

This approach is a fantastic precedent to the system I’m looking to develop.  The choice of site will be informed by where the timber is and the roads on which it is transported; it will need to work like a series of check points, border crossings, or way stations.  More to come.