Timber Rivalry: Competition Reimagines NYC Waterfront

Can wood mitigate how climate change is impacting our cities? Can timber help solve some of the biggest challenges facing today’s rapidly growing urban environments? And more specifically, could it help transform a vacant waterfront site in Queens, New York?

A rendering of a wood building with people walking around it.

Timber in the City is an imaginative design competition challenging entrants to use timber construction to create a vibrant and vanguard model of healthy, biophilic living. 2019 Winners embodied this vision.

Those are the questions nearly one thousand architectural students and faculty set out to answer as part of the 2019 Timber in the City Urban Habitats Competition. The sheer volume of entries suggests an ever-increasing interest in timber design and taller wood construction. As the third in a series, this one-of-a-kind competition is organized by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), the Binational Softwood Lumber Council (BSLC) and Parsons School of Design.

An imaginative design competition challenges entrants to use timber construction to create a vibrant and vanguard model of healthy, biophilic living.

Entrants were challenged to embrace the new structural and ecological possibilities of wood construction and propose a design for a mid-rise, mixed-use complex that includes affordable housing, a large community wellness facility, and an early childhood education center. Just south of New York’s Queensborough/Ed Koch Bridge, the high-profile site is an opportunity to connect and bring new vibrancy to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Adjudicated by a distinguished panel of experts, the jury selected a submission titled “Aperture” as the first-place design. This winning entry envisions a dense waterfront promenade throughout Long Island City, of which the building site is only the beginning. As the design team describes in their submission, the East River promenade connects Queensbridge Park to the North, with Hunters Point to the South, and provides unique public space and a development impetus for the Queens riverfront. The jurors noted the University of Maryland-based team’s solution to be an innovative and intelligent use of timber construction techniques. A strategic placement of the buildings forms a protective plaza while establishing a pedestrian street that links to the city grid easily, connecting residents to the waterfront amenities and a new ferry terminal. Interior renderings imagine warm, light-filled spaces with timber posts and beams exposed.

(Winning entry, Aperture)

Second place goes to the City College of New York’s submission “Re-Gen Growth”, selected by the jury for “its innovative use of wood, which connects spaces, structure and the user experience all together”. As an offset modular design of mass timber, the design resembles an elevated and inviting city forest amidst its urban setting.

(Second place winner, Re-Gen Growth)

The entry that secured third place for the University of Illinois at Urbana -Champaign, “Timber Living”, was a distinctive tall wood tower rising boldly from the site and constructed of cross-laminated timber (CLT). The jury observed that “Timber Living” demonstrated a clever assembly of the team’s strong grasp of timber construction. In addition, various innovative mid-rise and taller wood designs received honorable mentions. The common theme throughout the entries: an imaginative creation of a green, biophilic and interconnected timber-constructed environment for mixed-use living.

(Third place winner, Timber Living)

The competition ran from July 2018 through May 2019 and included over 920 participants. The design jury met in July to select the winning projects and honorable mentions. For full details on the competition and the winning submissions visit

The projects will be on view at the 2020 ACSA Annual Meeting in San Diego (March) and the American Institute of Architects 2020 Convention in Los Angeles (May). Awards, totaling $40,000, were presented to the teams of students and faculty for their unique celebrations of wood products.

For more inspiration see our Look Book.

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