GO2WOOD program and interview with Michael Green

In a series of interviews Chora Connection presents keynotes, speakers and collaborators contributing to the Go2Wood Conclave '16, 27 of October. The first interviews was with David Goehring and Frank Erichsen and Anne Beim. The next is with our keynote Michael Green.


What is the philosophy behind your work?

Our philosophy is based on what we call Darwinian Modernism. As Darwin first observed nature finds a path to evolve to use as little energy as possible to thrive and survive.  Design can share those same values.  By looking to reduce through our design process we not only mean through the material or performance choices we make but also through a reductive design process where we slowly remove the unessential from the project until only the essential remain.  The flower is not beautiful by chance. It is beautiful to attract the bee. Design should be no different. It should find its beauty in its essential purpose.  We have a long way to go but this philosophy helps shape our decisions each and every day.

Why is wood important? 

Wood is important for so many reasons, from its great qualities as a renewable, carbon-sequestering product that is grown by the sun, to its character and beauty.  It is also important because wood affords us a healthy indoor environment to work and live in like no other.  It provides us with a durable and enduring material that has exceptional life cycle benefit in building and as a designer it offers us an evolving medium that is both complex and a new frontier for design.  In many respects we are taking knowledge that disappeared a century ago and revitalising the next century of building more sustainably. 

michael-green-6Photo credits:Ema Peter

What is wrong with the way we build today?  What has changed from yesterday?

Why do we want a new phone when the old one works just fine? The answer is about progress and innovation, but in building it is about finding a more sustainable path to building. 

The materials of the last century; steel and concrete, are good materials. They will remain important to our future.  We simply believe in reducing the proportion of those materials in our buildings and instead focusing on renewable materials with low energy and carbon footprints. 

The next century is simply about reworking the recipe of building and adjusting our diet for a more healthy future.

How can we benefit here in Denmark from using wood as the building material of the future? 

Denmark has a global reputation for beautiful design in wood.  All over the world we find cherished antiques of the Danish modern era.  There is a tradition there and more importantly a design appreciation of the material that resonates with the country’s identity. 

I can not speak to Denmark’s values as a Canadian but I can see inspiration in the idea that the same values that Denmark has brought to a tradition of wood furniture can be applied to a future of wood architecture. One that is cherished in the same way and integral to Danish identity.

The benefits are clear. Every building is a choice. Will it use high energy and high carbon footprint materials or low? That choice seems simple. How it transforms through design is where Denmark will most make its global mark.

Is it sustainable to build wooden skyscrapers? 

The simple answer is that we have to house the world and we have to choose a wide range of solutions that serve the cultural, geographic, environmental and climatic diversity of the world.  No single solution will answer the question of true sustainability. In dense cities wood buildings that replace concrete buildings certainly offer a more sustainable solution if the wood is sourced from sustainable forest practices. 

The key factor is the sourcing of the wood so as to not detriment forest ecology and habitat, indigenous people or even increase deforestation.

In some parts of the world the mission to build in wood with advanced wood products may well be the answer we are looking for to stop deforestation.  If we change the value of the land to support replanting trees rather than cutting for agricultural land we may well have found the economic incentive needed. 

Layer after layer of issue needs to be understood to express sustainability.  I believe wood buildings offer one very good tool to a more sustainable future but I don’t see it as the answer to all the world’s building challenges.

mga_shoreline_in4_michaelelkanPhoto credits:Michael Elkan

What is the biggest surprise you have found in providing wooden structures for your clients in recent years.

People love wood.  It’s not just me apparently!  I love watching people walk through our buildings and touch the wood or smell it.  Wood’s natural beauty is undeniable and its forms and variety unlimited. 

Our clients find that they are more productive when they work in wood spaces and that their kids learn more.  It’s a wonderful quality of the material that somehow seems more biologically connected to humans than we know.  I often think about human evolution and that our species has always lived amongst natural materials, stone, earth and wood.  Why would we expect our species to evolve in only this last century to feel comfortable surrounded by man made materials crafted of complex polymers and coatings?  It seems obvious that natural materials – wood – would simply feel better to us all.

What is your vision for the future of architecture and housing?

Ironically though I talk a lot about wood in building our cities of the future, I believe that the real discussion for our future is more about social connection and community building.  The very technical qualities of our wood buildings often overshadow the qualities of those same buildings that I am most proud of.  The future of city building will continue to be about bringing us closer together with greater density but it also must be about the quality of life when we live closer.  How do we ensure that people feel a sense of belonging and a positive ambition for their future?  Parks and public space become ever more important as we build more densely.  Our connection and understanding of nature when we are more removed from it living in dense cities also becomes ever more important.  We have to design housing and cities around experiences, adventure, discovery, community and wonder as a way to feed the human spirit with the qualities of life that endure.  Design can help in many ways, from housing to urban design, from landscape to experience design.  No single aspect of design trumps another.

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