On Jan. 22nd, a group of twelve architecture students, along with a cross-disciplinary group of faculty, met with officials from the City of Radford, Virginia and the Glencoe Museum to discuss their plans for the New River Train Observatory. The students are engaged with the community in a semester-long project to design and build a train-viewing platform highlighting the city's history as a railroad town. The project site, located behind the Glencoe Mansion, overlooks the Norfolk Southern railway line, as well as Bissett Park and the New River. Working in collaboration with Virginia Tech's Department of Sustainable Biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, the students will employ cross-laminated timber, a sustainable building material relatively new to the U.S.

The New River Train Observatory project will assist the local community in developing its railroad history as a potential tourist attraction. The Bauhaus teacher and architect Walter Gropius urged young architects to become involved in their communities. Community design-build projects such as this provide a wonderful way to act on Gropius’s advice.

The project will also serve to demonstrate the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT), a sustainable building material that has been used for many years in Europe and Canada but not as much in the United States. The CLT panels will be made from locally-sourced yellow poplar (tulip poplar) and pressed at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. This species of wood is found all over the southeastern United States and particularly in Virginia. The U.S. Forest Service advises thinning forests to promote forest health and fire resiliency. These small-diameter thinned trees can be used to make CLT. The panels can also include beetle damaged trees and trees that are already dead from other causes. Previously it has not been economically feasible to harvest such low-value trees.

Working on the project are Jacob Getzler, 4th year undergraduate student; Atoosa Sadeghi, 4th year undergraduate student; Stephanie Burcham, M.Arch.2 graduate student, Yuan Gas, M.Arch.2 graduate student, Kirt Hilker, M.Arch.2 graduate student; Sara Jamal Eddin, M.Arch.2 graduate student; Zilu Liu, M.Arch.2 graduate student; Logan Merrill, M.Arch.2 graduate student; Jack Searcy, M.Arch.2 graduate student; Madelyn Walker, M.Arch.2 graduate student; Yuan Wang, M.Arch.2 graduate student; and Robert Riggs, graduate thesis student.

The lead faculty member for the project is Prof. Kay Edge. Consulting faculty are Prof. Edward Becker, who has worked with CLT on projects in Finland; Dr. Daniel Hindman from the College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE), who has extensively researched hardwood CLT; and Dr. Tom Hammett, also from CNRE, who has expertise in economic development of forest products.

The students have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to support the project; to contribute, please visit https://crowdfund.vt.edu/project/8158. The fundraiser runs through Feb. 28th.

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