A team of master’s students at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) has built a mass timber observatory based on “zero-kilometre” philosophy to create an ecological interactive prototype within the forest in Valldaura, Barcelona, Spain.
Named FLORA, the Forest Lab for Observational Research and Analysis (FLORA) was developed as an advanced and ecological building built in Collserola Natural Park of Barcelona to serve as a scientific research facility allowing a researcher to live and work in the forest canopy.
Developed by a team of students and researchers of the Masters in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities (MAEBB), the observatory, based on “zero-kilometre materials” principles, is wrapped by a net taking cues from a hunter’s nest. The white-colored net was designed digitally and then woven together by hand.
Reaching over 8,5 metres in height, the installation was developed as a master’s project at IAAC.
The observatory was built from invasive pine trees sourced within the park through rigorous sustainable forest management and traceability procedures.
The master’s students cut and processed 70 trees to create Cross-laminated Timber (CLT) panels, laminated beams, and solid wood elements.
FLORA will be used to house a researcher for a short period of time who will be studying the biodiversity of the park and utilizing FLORA’s new weather station.
“Considered to be the most extensive green space in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, and covering over 8,000 hectares (seventeen kilometres long and six kilometres wide) with its highest peak at 512 metres (Tibidabo), Parc de Collserola is a natural area and getaway for both of those living in Barcelona and neighbouring cities,” said IAAC.
The observatory is located in a mountain range and nearby the sea, it houses 190 different types of vertebrates, Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) forests, and has an estimated population of 1,000 different species of plants and 10,000 million total trees.
It is in this environmental surrounding where IAAC master’s students have built the first building that allows for the observation of the forest canopy: FLORA.
The students of MAEBB carried out further research to analyse the biodiversity of the forest and identify various inhabitants from underground, aboveground, canopy, and sky levels.
This research allowed them to discern the structures and dimensions necessary to develop the construction, and more importantly, the type of materials they could use.
Considering sustainable and environmental principles, from its construction to its end use, the project is part of the ‘zero-kilometre’ philosophy, as the team emphasized.
The students used solely timber as the primary building material, which was obtained from the surroundings, and the project was constructed without the need of any supply chain.
The forest of the Parc de Collserola is formed by a wide variety of trees and plants that require sustainable management actions to allow the forest and the biodiversity it hosts to develop efficiently.
70 pine trees were felled to provide the necessary building material for FLORA. These trees were extracted and harvested in the Valldaura area based on the approved Sustainable Forest Management Plan in Collserola.
The students processed the harvested pines to create CLT panels, glulam beams, and solid wood using the sawmill and small CLT press available at Valldaura Labs.
The CLT core sits on four glulam timber columns of 30 by 30 centimeters. The bridges are made from homemade glue laminated timber – the longest of which spans approximately 12 metres.
These components were all individually made and then assembled using a crane in a highly intricate installation sequence.
The CLT structure is protected by two layers of natural cork panels providing thermal and acoustic insulation.
Wrapped by a net, according to the students, the net intends to better camouflage the project by allowing plants to spread along it thus further blending the structure with the forest in order to hide it from the surrounding wildlife.
FLORA allows a researcher to reside for a short period of time in order to study the local biodiversity and observe how the effects of climate change are influencing the natural park.
Housing a bird radio, bird houses, working and projection space, as well as bird watching spaces, the project seeks to be immersed within nature and to create an ecological interactive prototype.
Scientific research facility to study the forest canopy
For observatory, the students are inspired by the excellent work of American biologist Margaret D. Lowman, a.k.a. Canopy Meg, considered the pioneer of the science of canopy ecology.
She is known as the “mother of canopy research” and has spent the last 30 years designing hot air balloons and canopy walkways to explore the canopy in order to solve the mysteries of the world’s forests, especially insect pests and ecosystem health.
“The forest canopy is the habitat formed by the treetops where a great diversity of animals tends to live, as conditions are often more optimal for some species,” continued IAAC students.
“These canopies protect the forest floor by intercepting and assisting the percolation of 60-90 per cent of rain or snow water into the soil, while acting as a natural regulator to conserve roots in the event of heavy rainfall. It also nourishes the soil by producing leaf litter to maintain its fertility.”
According to the students, “the conservation of the forest canopy is fundamental to guarantee the water cycle, as much of the water absorbed by the trees is recirculated to the atmosphere through transpiration”.
Besides, “its study is very useful for climate change mitigation research, as it provides information to analyze the absorption, storage and flow of carbon,” they added.
Image © Valldaura Labs
Image © Valldaura Labs
Image © Valldaura Labs
Image © Valldaura Labs
Drawing of CLT
Drawing of mesh
The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) is a center for research, training, production, and communication, located in Barcelona with 22 years of activity. Its goal is to lead the mission of imagining the future habitat of our society and building it in the present.
The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) Valldaura Labs and its Masters programme in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities (MAEBB) are engaged in the learning and development of ecological projects, parametric design techniques, and the processing of locally-sourced materials.
Last year, IAAC and Berlin and Potsdam-based non-profit organization Bauhaus Earth also added a mass timber installation to the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona.
Project name: FLORA
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Direction: Vicente Guallart and Daniel Ibañez
Developed by: The students of the Masters programme in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities (MAEBB), 2021/22 class: Andrea Paola Rubio Paredes, Leif-Andres Vallecillo Riksheim, Lillian Wanjiru Beauttah, Pablo Rafael Herraiz García de Guadiana, Prachi Agarwal, Rachael Margaret Verdugo Pelaez, Romain Jacques Kenny Russe, Roshni Chirag Shah, Shagun Modi, Zani Kerubo Gichuki, Iletutu “Tutu” Ibiyemi Awosika, Kshitij Ramlal Sarote, Mónica Irene Pérez Rivera, Prasidh Choudhary, Agnieszka Szklarczyk, Pongpol Punjawaytegul, Suwapat Rodprasert, Anton Hofstadt.
Host: Valldaura Labs. Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia
Valldaura Labs Management: Laia Pifarré
Assisted by: Bruno Ganem, Alex Hadley, Gustavo Escudero
Advised by: Marziah Zad, Miquel Rodriguez, Elena Orte, Guillermo Sevillano, Ignasi Caus, Miguel Nevado
Sponsors: Tallfusta, Alberch, Heco Schrauben Ibérica
With the support of: Cerdanyola del Vallès City Council
Volunteer: Marilia Fernandez Lockwood, Philipp Wienkämper
All images © Adrià Goula unless otherwise stated.
All drawings © IAAC.
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