Advanced Design Studio: Organschi/Gray

Organschi/Gray: Finland, Austria

Timber Innovation District


Design and Visualization



Coordinating Faculty


The Kahn Studio will explore the potential of new timber technologies and contemporary high performance wood architecture in an experimental timber district in and around Ball Island on the Mill River in New Haven, Connecticut. Through the design of four urban building types and their associated structural morphologies, students will test the capacity of an ancient building material to produce beautiful and innovative architecture in the contemporary city.


On March 18th, 2014, United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a new initiative to train architects, engineers and builders about the benefits of advanced wood building materials in an effort to bring new structural timber technologies and industrial wood products to the forefront of a national manufacturing renaissance. Noting that one of the world's oldest building materials is now also one of its most advanced, Secretary Vilsack described the USDA’s new partnership with the US Forest Products Lab and the Bi-National Softwood Lumber Council as an important part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan. The alliance of governmental agencies and commercial manufacturing organizations seeks to develop and promote a host of new building materials and sustainable construction practices through $2 million in funding for innovative designs in high-rise mass timber building and housing development. A series of programs will include design competitions and building demonstration projects that employ advanced timber techniques with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through increasingly robust practices of sustainable forestry and the expansion of markets for innovative wood products.The studio will examine, through its own collective design work and an accompanying research program, the way in which specific political directives can promote a new design culture, one that finds advantage in abundant and underutilized environmental resources as it seeks to answer pressing socio-economic need.


The studio will address the detailed design of individual buildings but, in the spirit of Louis Kahn, will undertake that architectural and technical work within the framework of urban culture and building and infrastructural context. Students will work individually or in pairs to develop one of four building types (and their associated structural morphologies and enclosure systems). Each building type will be tested and deployed as an architectural solution in an urban site within a shared plan for a mixed industrial/residential zone:

  • Live-work housing (mid-high rise repetitive span)
  • Manufacturing/recreational facility (long span)
  • Vehicular and service infrastructure (dynamic high loading)
  • Commercial office and market space for local food distribution (open flexible structure)

Although the studio will work collaboratively to knit individual projects into a cohesive site plan, each student will be expected to develop her or his building to a high level of resolution in terms of the following criteria:

  • Sensitivity to the ecological characteristics and vulnerabilities of a coastal riparian site;
  • Responsive and appropriate urban place-making within the guidelines of a city planning district framework;
  • Structural feasibility using contemporary timber construction technologies;
  • Operational impacts as they relate to the performance of the building envelope;
  • Architectural quality.

Students may choose specific emphases within these basic requirements and will inevitably explore their own means of representing their solutions, but they will be expected to integrate their individual work into a coordinated and collective studio presentation, one that demonstrates the architectural potential and urban implications of new building materials, tools, and techniques. The findings of the studio will be published and presented to officials at the USDA, the US Forest Products Lab and Bi National Softwood Lumber Council in 2015.


New Haven’s history of 19th century masonry and heavy timber (Type 4) construction and its ongoing sustainability research at institutions like the Yale School of Architecture and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies with its Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry provides an ideal urban site for the architectural exploration of low impact city building. The Yale Corporation’s deep investment in global forests positions this small but flexible urban center as a potential leader in timber construction: dense urban development that functions to mitigate rather than exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions and associated global warming.

The Mill River District, centered at the English Station power plant and bounded by Grand Avenue and Chapel Street,has been identified by the City of New Haven and its Economic Development Corporation as a new industrial village, already home to 3000 light industrial jobs with ready access to mass transit, industrial rail systems, commercial waterfront, and Yale University’s scientific research infrastructure.In an extensive report prepared by urban planning consultancy UTILE, and business development advisors Ninigret Partnership, the area was identified as a future site of unconventional mixed use buildings and new architectural types: live-work and live-make buildings providing a blend of residential, commercial retail, and the “fashion risk” industrial sectors that specialize in mass customization. The City has embraced this proposed mix of industrial work and residential space as a potential antidote to the kinds of gentrification common to urban waterfronts.

The district’s ecological zone, a brackish riparian wetland prone to tidal surges and vulnerable to impacts related to building and infrastructure development,provides an optimum condition for the exploration and implementation of resilient, dense coastal urban development. Its centerpiece, the now moribund English Station Power Plant, provides the ideal structure for biomass energy production and district energy supply. The low-lying land along the Mill district, fully exposed to wind off Long Island Sound, is already the site of wind energy production.

In selecting a site in New Haven as the subject of the semester’s work, the studio encourages students to test and confirm their design premises through repeated visits at different stages of building development. A primary research trip conducted during the Fall Term Advanced Studio Travel Week will seek to place the USDA challenge and the work of the studio in a global context. Additional day long research trips to manufacturing and fabrication plants and current building projects near New Haven will serve to supplement students’ understanding of the potential of these new technologies in an American building culture.

Research Trip

A study trip during travel week will examine two specific “cultures” of timber building design that are today connected through a shared manufacturing base and economic and political union. Both Finland and Austria have experienced a recent resurgence in wood design and architecture, fueled by ample forest resources and silvacultural infrastructure as well as robust traditions in building with wood. Today, Finnish and Austrian architects, engineers, and researchers work at the forefront of new “mass” timber technologies, charting an alternative course in the design of dense urban building and infrastructure that is reinforced through methods of embodied energy and emissions analysis, measures that seek to mitigate global environmental impacts of the building sector.

Finland’s innovative wood design culture is rooted in the soil of 20th century Finnish Independence, a conscious effort by the national government to build a political and industrial apparatus at mid-century geared to develop new value-added manufacturing products wrought from its vast natural material resources. Today, the region around Helsinki and Jyvaskyla is a locus of sustainable building and urban development. A competition for a new Guggenheim Museum in the capital’s south harbor district is perhaps the most highly publicized example of the new Finnish imperative to build in wood, but over the last decade more significant--albeit lesser known--work in mid-rise timber building and sustainable city planning has put Finland at the epicenter of a movement that combines techniques in high performance wood design with low-impact urban development.

Austria’s contemporary boom in new timber technology and sustainable architectural design is founded in the country’s tradition of timber construction and culture of wood craftsmanship. Vorarlberg, a province in the nation’s western edge that borders Germany, is home to innovative wood architecture and state-of–the-art producers who today export mass timber construction products and techniques throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Most notable in a contemporary urban context of timber is the work of CREE, a research wing of the development consortium of Herbert Romberg, which has produced several prototype projects accompanied by rigorous impact analysis, including the 8- story timber Life Cycle Tower and the newly completed IllwerkeZentrumMontafon, a 5-story office headquarters of the centralhydroelectric energy plant for the state of Vorarlberg.