Structural Products of Small Diameter Timbers – By Michaela Harms

WT4When we think of sustainable solutions for buildings, new wood is not the first thing that comes to mind.  WholeTrees Architecture and Structures however is an innovator in sustainable wood use and creates some beautiful buildings. Lead architect, Roald Gundersen, has been building with round timbers for over 20 years. He utilizes small diameter trees and branching members, bi-products of sustainably managed forests that are often passed off as unmillable low-value pulpwood. Roald’s partner, Amelia Baxter, saw the opening market for a resurgence of sustainable wood use based on the warm reception of Gundersen’s designs at the time. In 2010, Baxter and Gundersen co-founded WholeTrees and the results are cost-efficient, green, and biophilic structural systems to compete with steel, concrete, and dimensional lumber.


Round timber building is a framing system that incorporates the inherent beauty of the tree. This natural form supplies impeccable strength because the external pre-tensioned fibers that are milled away in dimensional lumber stay intact. WholeTrees goes beyond traditional heavy-timber framing and has engineered modern truss designs to compete in the commercial market with the help of the USDA Forest Products Laboratory through Small Business Innovation Grants.  The benefits of using an abundant non-toxic material that is considered waste are vast. By adding value to this resource, WholeTrees is encouraging sustainable forest management that allow the forests to perform better as carbon sinks and yield higher production, as well as create rural jobs. Additionally, WholeTrees uses many invasive species, such as black locust, to allow for natural habitat regrowth and promote biodiversity within our woodlands. When we sequester CO2 in gorgeous structures we work with what the earth provides as well as give back.


Gundersen’s sustainable design does not stop at round timbers. He has been a long proponent of material reuse, recycling and non-toxic building techniques. His efficient designs have incorporated reclaimed carpet for ceilings, reused doors and windows, straw bale walls, passive solar principles, and more. Recently, WholeTrees has begun work with Madison to use the city’s Ash trees before they succumb to the Emerald Ash Borer and insure new trees are planted. Interest in the local trees has sparked among clientele.


WholeTrees Architecture and Structures hopes that the world starts seeing trees and is pioneering this concept through their desirable design and state-of-the-art research.