Pilot Projects 2022: From bamboo urbanism to Amazonian woodworking
Updated: Feb 26
When Pilot Projects was founded in 2010 in New York City we gave ourselves a mission to co-create a better world. 2022 saw our team, now based in Montreal, working with partners and teams on a huge spectrum of work all over the world, from Amsterdam to Suriname, Oslo to Borneo, and many places in between. Characteristically for Pilot Projects, this work included a mix of intensely hands-on (“keep your fingers out of the hydraulic press!”), theoretical, and strategic work. The unifying thread is that none of it could have happened without the “co”. We'd like to use this newsletter to highlight our many co-creation partners and thank them for their skill, dedication, trust in and collaboration with our team!
For those who are just getting to know us, Pilot Projects is a systems thinking and design organization that innovates in global systems, cities, and natural environments. This includes an emphasis on conserving natural areas and tropical forests, and engaging cities as centers of influence. We specialize in purposeful design of physical infrastructure (urbanism, architecture, and engineering) as well as in forest landscape restoration and conservation. We also have a strong history in organizational development and strategy, and participatory problem-solving that engages corporate CEO’s, indigenous youth, city officials, acclaimed scientists, and leaders of some of the world’s top NGOs.
Here are some of our most exciting and representative collaborations in 2022 with partners in Peru, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Norway, UK, USA, Canada, Guyana, Suriname, Gabon and Indonesia.
Peruvian Amazon : Innovation in the timber sector
We started a new contract with the Peruvian National Council of Science, Technology and Innovation to improve the social and environmental outcomes of the wood product manufacturing sector in the Amazon forest region of Ucayali. We pulled together an amazing team of co-creators and began working with ten local woodworking companies. We visited their workshops, hosted innovation seminars, led online courses and helped these ten SMEs design and build new physical prototypes that would lead to better outcomes for the businesses, and ultimately the forest environment. Key considerations included better use of raw materials, timber sourcing choices, creating circularity strategies for their products and communicating sustainability values to their customers.
This was a dream project for us: a hands-on pilot working with wood and developing sustainable livelihoods in tropical areas compatible with long term forest conservation. We know that this same challenge is faced in virtually every tropical forest country worldwide and that our collective ability to address it will determine the fate of the world’s remaining natural forests, a stable climate and the remaining biodiversity on planet earth. This makes the collaborative nature of the project even more poignant, and we are much indebted to our international co-creators: Garrett Siegers of WholeForest, Scott Landis of GreenWood Global, Jaime Carrera, Arch, Valeria Romano, Veronica Arias of CC35, Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez and Christine Padoch of CIFOR and Columbia University, Shoana Humphries of Green Value, Christine Facella of Modest, CITE Forestal, the wonderful team at CONCYTEC Peru, and the ten local companies who put themselves forward to help transform an unsustainable model of forestry to something that works for their business and the priceless Amazon forest system.
What we love most about this collaboration: Working hands-on with local craftsmen to answer questions like: How can a re-designed wooden table or step ladder help save the Amazon rainforest?
Read more about the project here.
Partner Forest Program: Connecting cities with forests around the world
We’re declaring 2023 as the “Year of the Partner Forest” – at least for our team – based on the enthusiasm and momentum of 2022. The world is realizing that as populations urbanize, cities must play a more direct role in conserving “faraway” forest landscapes – those forests located far from cities that provide a plethora of essential goods and functions. At COP15 in Montreal there was a new emphasis on harnessing the influence of cities to achieve biodiversity outcomes, which inevitably includes forest conservation, and especially tropical forest. Many new declarations and funding mechanisms for climate and biodiversity are making this link explicitly, such as our partners at Built by Nature. Cities4Forests now has four major European cities fully committed to partnering with tropical forest communities to procure “conservation timber” and other forest-positive products:
Amsterdam, our first MOU signatory, has initiated a relationship with Surinamese forest community, Bigi Poika. We will be shipping a container of their conservation timber to build a new canal bridge, public benches as well as strategic components of a new all timber net zero public housing development. This would not be happening without our partners at Probos Foundation, FSC Netherlands, and Giani Razab-Sekh.
Glasgow is carrying the torch from COP26 and the landmark Glasgow Declaration on Forests and Land Use, by greenlighting a Partner Forest program with the Carmelita community in the Maya Biosphere reserve by sourcing conservation timber and Capomo (Maya Nut) to be served in local cafes. Council members, local orgs, and private sector partners met in a co-design workshop for the second phase of the program which may include the construction of a Woodland educational outpost and urban rooftop innovation zone.
Torino is leveraging its spirit of innovation and post industrial legacy, combining sustainable procurement with urban space revitalization. Working with urbanist partners Stratosferica and Precious Woods, the Partner Forest Program has become integrated into a movement that activates spaces for citizens and students alike to engage in dialogue with the Bambidié community in Gabon.
Rotterdam has long been known as a global center of architecture and design, and is also the largest port in Europe. Rotterdam has recently joined the Partner Forest Program to build on both of these assets to diversify their urban infrastructure and build new, transparent connections to tropical forests.
Keep your eyes open at this year’s UIA (International Union of Architects) Congress in Copenhagen with the Partner Forest Program will be sponsoring a floating architecture in the harbor for Congress participants and Copenhageners of all stripes to enter the forest by braving the sea – perhaps a new Viking era of global collaboration?
In Argentina, architect Elizabeth Vergara is preparing to lead the third installment of the Partner Forests-based graduate-level studio course (Bosques Associados - Construyendo Connecciones) at the University of Buenos Aires. Working together with students, local municipalities, and forest communities in the Gran Chaco and Misiones regions of northern Argentina, the program continues to work to scale the ambition of mutually-beneficial connections between cities and forests.
COP15 Free Play: Carnaval de la Biodiversity and Strategy Game Day
When the UN Convention on Biodiversity was relocated from Kunming China to our home city of Montreal we jumped on the opportunity to design a unique hospitality experience for the international participants; something that would allow them to dive deeper into their collaborative networks and also meet people that they otherwise might not. We called it Carnaval de la Biodiversity and we’ve been told that the evening of biodiversity-themed games, short talks and lively performances was a refreshing addition to the core activities inside the Blue Zone.
The following day we hosted a day of play-based landscape strategy, led by eco-games guru Dr. Claude Garcia with members of his ETH Zurich research team. Testing in real time how forest (and biodiversity) outcomes follow a non-linear path at the hands of multiple agents in free play is a call for new thinking in conservation policy development. Games can be a powerful contributor to systems redesign.
Our real test of success will be the results of these new encounters and ideas, and we will be following up with all of the participants to gain a clearer view of how these events impacted them and what we can learn about this kind of creative endeavour. Pilot Projects is always looking to build on and improve our outputs and we depend on feedback loops from our stakeholders, so please reach out to us and let us know your thoughts!
Better Forest Better Cities: A guide for city administrations
During the COP15 activities in Montreal we launched our flagship report Better Forests, Better Cities. The in-person launch at Pilot Projects’ main office, followed a virtual launch with our Cities4Forests partners at World Resources Institute. Better Forests Better Cities draws on more than 500 published works representing thousands of scientific studies to build the evidence base for why cities depend on forests, inner, near and far, and provides guidance for action. The goal of the report is to equip cities with the proof they need to take action on forest management and conservation, and specific policy recommendations that will garner the highest impact.
The report was enthusiastically launched by WRI’s senior fellow Francis Seymour, climate scientist Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, WRI’s Craig Hanson, and the City of Montreal’s Urban Forest Advisor, Anthony Daniel. Dr Sarah Wilson is the lead author of the report supported by a strong team of co-authors from the World Resources Institute and Pilot Projects. Download the full publication here and an executive summary here.
Our greatest hope for this collaboration is that cities become better equipped and motivated to join the global forest conservation movement!
Canada Calling:Thriving Forests and Regenerative Built Environments
Canada’s pivotal role in the global innovation and development of forest-positive climate neutral building materials was the starting point for our co-hosting this national dialogue. On the table was Canada’s outsized forest area, troubled legacy with forest exploitation and indigenous rights, big goals for climate and biodiversity protection, highly developed forest products industry, and an architecture community that is equipped with a skillset, a culture, and high aspirations for environmental leadership. Working with our partners the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) we convened a two-day symposium to deepen and develop the conversation on how we can build our cities sustainably with wood. In the Thriving Forests event (see recap here) we hosted panel conversations with indigenous, conservation and industry leaders, prominent architects and engineers, government officials and a wide variety of other stakeholders. Our goal for the event was to have us all step outside of our comfort zones, dig into challenging details, and develop shared vocabulary and new relationships that would help us build more holistic responses to the challenge of sustainable mass timber buildings that do not leave forests and indigenous people in the lurch. The event was so successful that we are planning the next Thriving Forests dialogue at the UIA conference in Copenhagen this July.
Bamboo Urbanism: Developing the IndoBamboo TechHub
Forest-positive biobased materials for urban construction are key to a sustainable future, and a major focus for Pilot Projects. For the entire month of November our founder Scott Francisco traveled to Indonesia (Bali and Borneo) to work with the IndoBamboo team with a focus on a critical link between urban infrastructure and tropical landscape restoration – bamboo. It can be grown in village agroforestry models to support carbon and biodiversity-rich landscapes and rural livelihoods while providing a building material for high-density city infrastructure. Developing this link requires ongoing innovation and investment at all stages of the value chain, which in-turn relies on a reliable market pull. It is a typical chicken-and-egg problem, and at this stage the market is not in sync with the production and technical capabilities. The product is laminate bamboo building components (beams, columns and floor slabs) that replace high CO2 emitting concrete and steel. But much like “mass timber” construction a decade ago, the market is still unaware of the potential to make large fire safe buildings from bamboo. We are grateful to have worked with some of the greats in bamboo innovation, in particular Arief Rabik and his extensive global network of bamboo knowledge leaders and the amazing technical team at the Indobamboo factory. Reach out to us if you would like to discuss bamboo building products and innovation!
Forest Footprint : Publishing the nuts and bolts of our process
After three years in the making, we have published the methodology of our Forest Footprint tool. This tool allows individual cities to calculate their impact on tropical forests via the commodities they consume, and provides a basis for planning forest-positive action to mitigate climate and biodiversity impacts. In 2022 we calculated the footprint of 25+ global cities, and are working specifically with cities such as London, Quito, Salvador, Oslo and others to incorporate their forest footprint into their climate and/or biodiversity action plans. In addition, we are currently upgrading the Forest Footprint’s online dashboard and expect to launch it in the spring.
We look forward to continuing these collaborations in 2023 and further developing our relationships and outcomes. Let’s find even more ways to co-create a better world together! – Scott Francisco and the Pilot Projects team