Updated: Jun 13, 2022
After months of design and planning to align materials, values, and vision, Turin’s Partner Forest launch event on April 8–10 in Precollinear Park was a great success. The message that cities can play a key role in protecting tropical forests was right at the center. Upwards of 60 local designers, makers, students, and volunteers led by Torino Stratosferica worked with conservation timber from eastern Gabon to create furniture and a pavilion for Piazza Hermada, a disused tram stop reclaimed by the community as a public gathering place.
To elevate the conservation message, participants inscribed the new chairs with words expressing the values that inspired their work: change, care, innovation, impegno (commitment), and fiducia (trust).
In addition, participants revitalized the former tram shelter by installing an infographic display about Turin’s connection to Gabon’s forests through the new wooden park amenities. The titles read Gabon & il parco sotta la stessa bandiera (“Gabon and the park under the same flag”) and Nuova vita in città rispettando la foresta (“new life in the city while respecting the forest”).
As Stratosferica architect Gian Luca Mazza told us afterwards, his passion for presenting these messages grew as he dove deeper into the world of sustainable wood, prompted by our team’s proposal to use tropical iroko timber to build the community’s vision for the piazza. Ultimately, he was moved to look with “fresh eyes” at the concept of sustainability in a global context.
“We tend to be obsessed with using local materials, so at first my question was, Why use a tropical material if I’m not close to its source?” Mazza said. “But the project was a trigger to learn that ‘sustainable’ means finding the right balance” between material origin, impacts, and intended use.
Tropical timber is a preferred material for outdoor installations thanks to its ability to withstand the elements and last a long time. Cities regularly use it for park amenities, street furniture, and the like. Too often, however, not much thought is given to where the timber came from or why a particular species was chosen—oversights that can support unsustainable forestry practices, such as over reliance on just a few commercial species or illegal logging of natural forests.
Conservation tropical timber, in contrast, can be a force for good. Its purchase can help keep forests standing, by supporting strong institutions of sustainable forest management and opportunities for communities to have meaningful work in forest stewardship. Gabon is actively pursuing this strategy in its vision to become a “green superpower” by strictly conserving areas of its vast rainforests and opening other areas to sustainable forestry. National forestry laws mandate ultra low-volume harvests and minimum 25-year harvest cycles to ensure maintenance of the forest cover. By the end of 2022, all forestry operations must also be FSC certified.
In the Partner Forest Program, cities and groups that can provide conservation timber (and other forest-positive products) are matched in local-to-local partnerships and encouraged to develop mutually beneficial long-term relationships. Turin’s Partner Forest for timber comprises the forest concessions of Bambidié, Lelama, and Okondja, which are FSC-certified, managed by Precious Woods–CEB, and operated by staff living in local communities.
“This could be a new model of sustainability in cities, in terms of materials as well as relationships,” said Stratosferica’s international relations manager Liam Korn. “You can get to work with people who have fresh ideas and they just really want to get it done as much as you do.”
He was already looking forward to the second phase of the collaboration. When greenlit by the City of Turin, it will involve using conservation timber in a larger park space and developing new opportunities to showcase and communicate the relationship with Gabon.
“It's a win-win methodology to work with this connection and on the meaning of connection,” Mazza said. “In a sense we were already connected [through globalization]. We just need to reconnect in a new way, with a more sustainable eye, with fresh eyes.”
The Piazza Hermada installation makes a striking impression that Turin residents will engage with for years to come. Check out our website for more info and pictures!