Thanks to Studio Associate Professor Paul Pettigrew, not the proverbial phoenix, but tables, chairs, necklaces, and even bookmarks have arisen from urban wood-ashes, oaks, maples, and other Chicago-area trees felled by disease, the elements, or age. For the past four years, Pettigrew and students in his elective course Architecture and Furniture have been looking at more creative uses for damaged trees rather than the mulch or firewood for which they are typically recycled.
Over the spring and summer of 2008, they designed and fabricated gift shop items and furniture from wood recovered from trees infested with the emerald ash borer beetle as part of a federally funded project headed by Edith Makra, community trees advocate for The Morton Arboretum. Their pieces were on display at the arboretum and numerous public awareness exhibitions before they were distributed to various state and federal agencies for permanent display.
"My IIT research into the various uses of wood from trees damaged by the emerald ash borer was only the tip of the iceberg," says Pettigrew, noting that he had no idea of the vast amount of urban wood available each year in the Chicago metropolitan area prior to his participation in the emerald ash borer project. "Selecting the best trees for furniture and architectural components gives many of these wonderful trees a new life." Pettigrew uses recycled or local wood for his architectural and furniture projects whenever possible.
A reclaimed ash end table designed by Pettigrew has tapped the interest of the Crate & Barrel chain of contemporary home stores, where Pettigrew was formerly employed as an architect. The Giving Tree Project, based on the research he conducted through his IIT College of Architecture course, earned Pettigrew a finalist spot in the 2010 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum Whiteboard Challenge.