Hemlock House

Odile Lamy, McGill University


This is an attempt to really understand a material. It has principles that are reminiscent of Indigenous ways of knowing, in its desire to develop a deep understanding of a material as a foundation for a later architectural exploration in built form. While the architectural application of this research could be more fully developed, the project’s sensitive nature, graphic presentation, and reflection on the traditional technique of stacked timber construction are all commendable. -Jury Comment

Engravings by Odile Lamy, printed at L’imprimerie centre d’artistes, Montreal

A tiny, aphid-like insect is felling the towering eastern hemlock forests of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. Native to East Asia, and first detected in North America in the 1950s, the hemlock woolly adelgid was likely transported to the continent in nursery stock from Japan. This invasive species has transformed hemlock forests into ghostly landscapes of dead and dying trees along the eastern U.S. coast and is now making inroads in Canada.

Hemlock House pays tribute at a critical moment to the threatened eastern hemlock. “There is no current global strategy to utilize wood from dead or dying eastern hemlocks and most trees are left to rot,” Odile Lamy writes in her thesis. “This project proposes to capitalize on this naturally available wood to construct a building that will celebrate the tree.”

The project is sited in Quebec’s Eastern Townships in the Parc municipal de Frelighsburg, where eastern hemlocks are still thriving. The municipality is currently designing a 10-year forest management program to improve the vitality of this undermanaged site. Hemlock House aims to increase landscape connectivity for the region’s residents and tourists, while accommodating forest management activities such as lumber and bark drying. It celebrates the shaded atmosphere
of eastern hemlock groves; the building is “a temple in the half-light.”

Wood, Lamy writes, is “an archive of the environment in which the tree has lived; its growth rings, knots and grain bear witness to the geological and physical past of the forest.” The project draws from the traditional pièce sur pièce construction of log cabin-style buildings, more specifically from Métis folk houses, and inverts a typical construction detail to expose the full cross section of logs in the interior. Hemlock trunks are conical, tapering as they climb. Timber for Hemlock House preserves this tapering. Local eastern hemlocks, harvested while still alive, form the columns that create a crib frame for the dead trees, decimated by the adelgid, that are stacked horizontally between them, with thick and tapered ends alternating in each row.

Due to the pandemic, the execution of the project ended up being very different from the design-build approach Lamy had originally envisioned. Holed up in a small urban apartment, she turned to etching, which in some ways parallels Hemlock House itself. The project conceives building as a process extending from the growth of a tree to its reconfiguration as a dwelling. In etching, the act of drawing is transmuted into the physical processes of carving and printing.

“When the adelgid reaches Frelighsburg, no more live hemlocks will watch over the Hemlock House, but the memory it encloses will endure,” writes Lamy.

Location: Parc municipal de Frelighsburg, Quebec

Advisor: Martin Bressani