In 2020, many people stuck in tiny apartments within big, shut-down cities fantasized about having their very own “quarantine cabin.” Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a place to distance yourself from crowds, commune with nature and take a break from all the stress of the pandemic? Even in 2021, as the Covid-19 crisis appears to be receding, the concept is tantalizing, so this design called “The Voxel Quarantine Cabin” is as relevant as ever.
Created by a team of students and researchers from Barcelona’s Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, the cabin was designed with isolation in mind and built using wood harvested from the immediate surroundings on the building site. Taking its name from the abbreviation for the phrase “volumetric pixel,” the cabin was built in just five months as part of the students’ master degree program.
“The project researches the ecological transformation of wood as a structural, thermal, and constructive material from sustainable forest management because of its capacity to store CO2 in buildings,” the designers say.
The students milled, dried, processed and pressed Aleppo Pine into cross-laminated timber sheets called lamellas on site at the Valldaura campus. They chose 40 pine trees to harvest according to a sustainable forest management plan that encourages the growth of small trees to improve biodiversity.
“In a feat of obsessive commitment to locality and understanding the material flows of architecture, every lamella of every panel was tracked and traced, ensuring that every single wooden element of the house can be accurately traced back to the point where the tree it came from once stood,” the project team said.
The exterior wood was charred using the Shou Sugi Ban process to protect it from rain and insects and formed into slatted rain screen panels. Collected rain is routed into tanks for the outdoor shower and kitchenette. Three solar panels provide power for a laptop and lighting, and a self-contained biogas system treats waste from the toilet to generate fuel for cooking and heating.
Basically, it’s the perfect place to get away from it all, whether you’re in the midst of a global health crisis or just need to eliminate all distractions long enough to complete a project.
Learn more about Shou Sugi Ban and how wood buildings can help fight climate change by storing CO2:
Dark, dramatic pine remains a strong trend for home exteriors, whether you choose to paint, stain or char the wood. The latter technique has additional protective benefits, like making the building more resistant to fire and insects, but all three add statement-making contemporary flair. In this case, architect Pablo Saric paired it with vertical pine siding for his own stunning single-story family home overlooking the rocky coastline of Chile.
Casa SS was designed with two primary features in mind: prioritizing views of the sea for everyone, and reducing light pollution from the home at night, which could affect sensitive wildlife in the area. The location is so remote, there’s no electric street lighting, making it a great place to gaze at the stars. Working with fellow architect Cristian Winckler, Saric arranged the layout in a single, simple line, so every room has its own floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking the water.
Pine is a big part of what makes this home so powerful. When you approach from the road, all you see is those vertical slats extending the full height of the building, giving the home a sleek linear silhouette. There are no windows on the back or side walls at all: just a single entry door that leads into the main living area. The side walls extend forward like protective wings, creating outdoor spaces that are sheltered from the sometimes brutal coastal winds. The roof is covered in solar panels to power the off-grid residence.
The home was prefabricated offsite, with modules transported over 160 miles from Santiago and set in place with a truck crane. The minimalist design, including the charred vertical pine siding, was a carefully considered aesthetic choice.
“We tried to reduce the palette of materials to a minimum to avoid a lot of visual information,” Saric told Dezeen.
“The idea is that the landscape is the protagonist, so the cladding is all in wood placed vertically. The doors of the rooms and the closets also use this material, and they try to disappear into the continuity of the interior and exterior walls,” he explained.
A modern ski retreat juts out from the hillside, clad inside and out with pine. La Dacha Mountain Refuge has two dramatically different looks depending on the season, blending into the surrounding vegetation for most of the year and standing out in sharp relief when the snow blankets the landscape.
Set among the Nevados de Chillan volcanic complex in Las Trancas, Chile, the refuge points oversized glass facades to the view, creating a sort of telescopic shape originating at the rear entrance. The vertical V-shaped dwelling is designed to follow the sun’s movements towards the north and west (being, of course, in the Southern Hemisphere.) A lot of attention was paid to thermal efficiency to make sure it stays warm and cozy in winter.
Private rooms are tucked down in the lower stories among the trees, while the public spaces like the living room and kitchen get to enjoy the best views at the top.
“In the middle floor is the entrance level that portrays a masonry stove or kachelofen, a wood stove that stores the required heat for the house in the thick brick walls, requiring a single load of wood a day with several benefits. This ancient technique common in central Europe becomes a prototype for Southern Chile where wood consumption and pollution are becoming crucial issues. The refuge is moduled in an array 122 x 244 cmts, the measures of the SIP board system. The panel where brought on a single day and assembled swiftly onsite during the warm months.”
For the exterior, DRR architects employed “yakisugi,” also known as “shou sugi ban,” the Japanese technique of charring boards to carbonize them, protecting against damage from insects and weather effects. Learn more about how “burning wood to make it fireproof” works.
One of the hottest new trends in architecture has actually been around for centuries, and it could be a key strategy for making wooden structures more fire resistant. “Shou sugi ban” roughly translates to “burnt cedar board” in Japanese, and it was developed by carpenters seeking a unique finish that would improve the durability of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica).
Commonplace in Japan since the 1700s or possibly even earlier, the technique traditionally involves strapping boards together and creating a fire in between them, which is allowed to burn just long enough to char the surface of the boards before it’s extinguished with water, buffed with a wire brush and sealed with a plant-based oil like tung. This produces a hard shell on the wood that naturally protects the rest of the board.
These days, the same effect is typically accomplished with a blowtorch, especially in the United States and Europe where it’s exploded in popularity thanks to its dramatic look and eco-friendly nature. The process chars the wood to varying degrees, depending on the desired outcome, ranging from a light toasting to a blackened “alligator skin” texture. A darker char provides the greatest benefits. Interestingly, the technique can be used on all kinds of wood, including Eastern White Pine.
When we wrote about this previously, lots of our readers wondered how such a process could possibly make wood more resistant to water, insect damage and especially fire. Nakamoto Forestry, a Japanese company with a shop in Portland, Oregon, inadvertently tested out the latter when last year’s Tubbs Fire burned around a house clad in its shou sugi ban siding just outside of Calistoga, California. The fire came right up to the side of the house, but the only damage it sustained was melting of the resin the company used on the back sides of the planks to hold and fill loose knots. They’e explained a little bit of the science behind how this works:
The two main components in softwood lumber are carbohydrates, like cellulose and hemicellulose, which make up 65-90% of the non-water mass, and lignin, which makes up the other 10-35%. Cellulose is made of a linked chain of glucose molecules, or sugar. Hemicellulose is also made of sugar, but in addition to glucose, it’s made with a range of different polysaccharides. Lignin doesn’t contain any sugars and is the main rigid, structural component of wood. The basic premise of heat-treated wood longevity is that the carbohydrate portion is burned off, leaving the structural lignin, and therefore depriving fungi and wood-eating insects of what they metabolize to survive.
In addition to being insect and microbe food (as well as hygroscopic), those carbohydrates are also fuel for fire to consume. In order for wood to ignite, its temperature must be high enough that pyrolysis takes place and the chemical reactions of combustion start. Ignitability of wood is dependent on the thermal properties of the species, moisture content and dimension of the piece, and the way heat is applied to the material.
The factors affecting the ignition of wood are generally well known: wet wood is more difficult to ignite than dry, thin kindling ignites more easily than thick logs, and softwood species ignite at a lower temperature than hardwood. Less common knowledge is that wood burns in stages. Cellulose is the first component of wood to ignite and it burns away quickly, leaving mostly lignin and other sugars behind, which become charcoal. Charcoal is the last component of wood to burn, as it requires higher temperatures than cellulose to ignite. This is the key to why shou sugi ban is naturally flame resistant: the cellulose has already been burned away, leaving a surface that requires much more extreme heat than non-heat-treated cypress to ignite.
Shou sugi ban is particularly well-suited for cedar and cypress, but produces similar effects on other woods as well (including pine!), though it becomes a bit of a misnomer in this case and proponents of the technique prefer to use names like “shou piney ban” to differentiate it. Many architects are beginning to experiment with using charred pine as a durable exterior siding, like the Charred Cabin by Del Rio Arquitectos Asociados pictured at the top of this page. Since the process can be quite time consuming for builders, some lumber providers have begun offering pre-charred siding to consumers.
Particularly in the American West, designing architecture that can withstand the danger of frequent wildfires has become a greater concern. It will be interesting to see how architects continue to experiment with this material, and whether it could play into new fire resistance strategies in the near future. If you test it out with pine, please be sure to let us know!