Trees for the Forest

Trees are vital to our built environment, as material and as form. They provide lumber, pulp, charcoal, and chemicals—inputs that drive the building industry. They cast shade, funnel the wind, whisper above our heads, flower and fruit, and change color with the seasons. We cut, fell, graft and carve their trunks; they take simple sunlight and water and grow into baobabs and mangroves and redwoods. As we plunge into a new decade, the threats to these organisms have never been greater. Wildfires blaze across California, agriculture uproots the Amazon, and disease threatens forests everywhere.

As systems and species, trees are now being called upon to perform a critical role as design tools. They sequester global carbon, carve out negative space in rigid urban grids, and mitigate the dramatic temperatures of asphalt heat islands. Trees are increasingly necessary to make cities more humane and resilient to climate change. Closer to home, in 2019 YSoA began accepting applications for a tenure-track appointment in landscape architecture, the 2020 Jim Vlock Building Project is being co-taught by a landscape architect for the first time, and more students than ever are enrolled in the joint YSoA-FES degree. A sea change is in the air.

Yet, trees are often an afterthought in architectural representation. Circles-with-crosses-marking-the-center dot the void spaces around our buildings, nondescript static infill that denotes some sort of concession to the natural world. How can we begin to think about trees in a way that reflects their variety, character, and the wonder of space formed by their branches? Our issue of Paprika! is dedicated to the tree. In this issue, we’ve asked our friends and fellow architects to explore trees through drawing. As designers, we’re sometimes asked to see the forest for the trees; this issue celebrates the trees for the forest.