2015 Spring Scholarship Winner – Christopher Gallegos

American Pole and Timber offers a $500 scholarship to two students each semester. The topic for submissions changes each semester and information for the Fall 2015 scholarship can be found on the APT website. Deadline for submissions is November 1, 2015 with the winners being announced November 30, 2015.

Congratulations to Christopher Gallegos, Harvard University, for winning one of two $500 scholarships from American Pole and Timber. We asked the question, “In what ways can the increased use of wood and wood-derived building materials in construction make the most positive impacts on the environment in next 35 years (by 2050)?”  The following is Amos’s winning submission.



I strongly believe that wood-derived and composite building materials will make a profound difference on the construction industry not only by 2050, but very much already changing the nature of how we think about standard construction practices. The case study I will use to expand upon this point is a recent competition entry titled “Against-the-Grain” submitted into the Timber-in-the-City competition in 2013.

As a strong proponent of sustainability and the important impact of conservation within the built environment (especially the ecology where one sources materials), I believe one of the most important tenants of being a responsible designer is constantly thinking about how we can further reduce our building footprint. Across  the United States, construction and demolition waste debris accounts for 25% to 45% of the total solid waste stream (by weight), with the remaining balance consisting of regular municipal and commercial trash1 – this couldn’t be placed in any simpler terms in illustrating how important a role our construction industry plays in the impact to the environment, how broken the construction standard remains for up-cycling or recyclability, and how critical it is to devise new best practices with which to reconcile this industry standard and create a more integral life-cycle “cradle-to-cradle” building practice. Concurrently, and perhaps even more crucially, is the impact of climate change on the industry and the importance of sustainability, adaptability, and resiliency within the discipline of architecture and the construction industry; the biggest example of a recent effect of this was when Superstorm Sandy made landfall to the East coast rising coastal waters that crippled families and business owners alike, who were equally unprepared for the consequences, making a reality of these catastrophic events in many large urban centers and introducing new infrastructural obligations. Architects and designers need to think more presciently when specifying materials for the worst case scenarios imaginable. I believe CLT or Cross-Laminated Timber is one of the more forward thinking, viable building materials that should become synonymous with the sustainable movement, and provide an example to those looking to reduce their footprint in the built environment.

The Timber-in-the-City brief, developed by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), “challenged participants to design a mid-rise, mixed-use complex with affordable housing units, a job training/educational facility, a center for innovative manufacturing of wood technology, and a distribution center”2 within the thriving, yet dependent, community of Red Hook, Brooklyn in New York – enter the solution “Against-the-Grain” where myself and a partner sought to rethink the way we build, primarily utilizing CLT as the main building component integral to the structure, fenestration and aesthetic components of the building. CLT is a highly compressed dried lumber assembly type, sandwiched together at right angles through a glue medium over the entire sides, that when stacked together forms an incredibly strong building material capable of transferring loads on all its sides; these material assemblies can come prefabricated on site, avoiding crucial schedule delays and costly errors with on-site assemblies, and can be responsibly managed through sourcing Forest Stewardship Council, FSC certified® materials. “Against-the-Grain” was devised as a method to substantially rethink the way we build: as we begin to understand the effect our

choices have on the environment, we realize that there is not one easy-fix to climate change, but rather a series of choices where the cumulative effect can start to yield positive change. The solution strives to create change within the building sector by addressing these issues directly through the use of wood, a lower impact building material, having a ground floor that is resilient to flooding, and raising programs that have a higher cost if flooded. Consequently this not-so-typical design stands out in Red Hook forming the basis for an archetype for many others to follow.


The concept was derived simply from a sliced log floating in a pond – sun-screening elements represent wood rings and the strong concrete base as the protective bark. The Red Hook area is prone to significant damage in storm events, so the building was designed to act as a log by ‘floating’ above the devastation. As such, sensitive program elements are located above the plinth, with more flexible programs below. A strong emphasis was placed on the bike elements in the program to supplement the lack of transit accessibility around the immediate area. The unique structural system is comprised of steel I-beams hung to Glulam


1           http://www.nyc.gov/html/ddc/downloads/pdf/waste.pdf

2  http://www.acsa-­‐arch.org/programs-­‐events/competitions/competition-­‐archives/2012-­‐13-­‐timber-­‐in-­‐the-­‐city

columns – dimensioned timber bonded together with durable, moisture-resistant structural adhesives – and double, two feet thick fire stairs of CLT on either end. Additionally, the 30’ high base is comprised of a 2’  thick wood-form lined, fly-ash concrete plinth to serve as both a protective flood barrier in storm events and a monolithic gateway into the CLT mixed use structure. Light to the base level is channeled through colored, recycled polycarbonate slats at the clerestory level. At nearly 90% wood material, the proposal utilizes the charring method developed by the Japanese Shou Sugi Ban technique on the façade to help with infiltration, and gypsum treatment to address fire protection in the CLT load bearing and partition walls in the residential section and in the CLT elements above the plinth. The icon of the design is a 15 story passive screening element inspired by wood rings, rigorously developed from multiple tests of optimal daylighting conditions.

Utilizing FSC® materials and reclaimed wood sources, the screening slats vary in thickness, and are painted on either side over the span of the building in a gradual gradient of red hues – the resulting effect significantly reduces heat gain and creates an iconic example of non-traditional, yet integral, building techniques in Red Hook.

The design takes subtle cues from Canadian architect Michael Green’s Wood Innovation Design Center in the British Columbia, and the British Waugh Thistleton Architects’ Murray Grove in England.

The proposal was a fantastic exploration into the advancements of what is feasible within the construction industry and how we can change the status quo in a way that is safe, dependable and responsible. I think, as responsible designers, we should specify more materials (like CLT) that would limit raw material consumption, allow for recyclability downstream, and contribute to a healthier environment for future generations. This technology is possible today, should be better utilized in building construction, and could help to reduce our impact to the construction waste stream – I believe this is where we need to be in the next 35 years, and I know we can get there. Wood will undoubtedly be an integral component of this future.



Christopher N. Gallegos is currently pursuing a Master of Architecture degree at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design starting in the Fall of 2015. He is an active member of the American Institute of Architects (New York chapter); a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Accredited Professional in Building Design and Construction credential (LEED AP BD+C); maintains an active Envision Sustainability Professional Credential (ENV SP); and is completing his National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) training in pursuit of an architectural license. He has worked for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, NYC Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery and Operations in the Build-It-Back program for Sandy residential restoration, and is an active member of the community in volunteer efforts for Habitat for Humanity and the NYCares programs.