Looking Back, Living in a Wooden Future

By Chuck Ray | Posted: 04/19/2014 1:38PM


Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations Walking through the Penn State University School of Architecture recently, I noticed a display in the entryway that caught my attention.

Sacred Spaces Sweat Lodge
This cool little building was designed by students in the PSU AIHI course series. A 15-point reciprocal roof frame honors the 15 poles in a Northern Cheyenne Tee Pee. This building was constructed in one week with the help of a great group of guests from all over the U,S.
click image to zoomReciprocal Frame Roof Chuck Ray Blog Intended Use
A "sweat" is an important and sacred ceremony for many American Indian tribes. This building will provide protection for a sweat lodge that is shared by many tribal members, and graciously maintained by the folks at the Prayer Lodge on the Northern Cheyenne reservation.
Key Features
The building is 20 feet in diameter and has an open skylight to let in light, and vent heat created during the ceremony. Glass beads and symbols designed by tribal members adorn this unique building.
- Professor David Riley, the Penn State American Indian Housing Initiative

The lodge has an interesting architectural feature called a reciprocal frame roof, one that is created by overlapping three or more members supported initially by a center pole, which is then removed after the overlapped rafters are tied together at the top. Our classic American Indian tee pees were built with skins, grasses, or bark covering different varieties of reciprocal frames. The resultant hole in the center was, of course, handy for allowing smoke from small cooking or heating fires to escape the lodging.

The reason I snapped the picture of the student project was that I had recently viewed the video below from a group called Living in the Future. These folks create and occasionally attempt to live in what they call Eco villages, villages created in a minimalist way in order to create as small an ecological footprint as possible. The first line of the video had stuck in my mind...

"Reciprocal frame roofs have only been around for about twenty years..."

Which goes, I suppose, to show that everything old eventually becomes new again.

 Read More Chuck Ray: 
China's Ghost Cities & the Mystery of the World's Largest Building

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Anyway, the video is interesting on many levels. Ancient construction design and techniques, implemented with modern tools. Tremendously inefficient division and utilization of labor, in the name of sustainability. The chicken sisters (6:40 of the video). The apparent belief that this group exercise of primitive communal living is the way of the future. And the short spiritual ceremony at the successful raising of the roof (13:40), once again confirming that people have an innate bond to things of the earth, to each other, and to a higher power.

Another way to Go Wood. To each his own.


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About the Author

Chuck Ray, PennState, Associate Professor of Wood Operations

Chuck Ray

Dr. Charles D. “Chuck” Ray is Associate Professor of Wood Operations Research at Pennsylvania State University. His specialty is in the area of operations research, specifically those operational issues that confront the majority of the wood products sector. He previously spent 15 years in research and quality management for two large building products corporations, Temple-Inland Forest Products and Louisiana-Pacific. Ray is the sixth generation of his family to work in the sawmill industry, the Ray Brothers Lumber Company, established in East Texas before the turn of the last century. He can be reached at cdrpsu@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @ChuckDRay. He maintains an Extension website for Penn State at http://extension.psu.edu/woodpro and also writes a blog on all wood issues called Go Wood which can be found at http://gowood.blogspot.com.

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