The Conversation Plinth is the First Hardwood-Cross-Laminated-Timber(HCLT) structure constructed in the US. It is a winning proposal for the Cleo Rogers Memorial plaza that pays homage to J Irwin Miller and aims to celebrate the community of Columbus. Its form takes cues from the conversation pit from the iconic Miller Home, as well as the plinths that elevate the landmarks immediately surrounding the site - the library designed by Pei, the First Christian Church designed by Saarinen church, and the Large Arch by Moore. The installation offers a place for the community to gather and converse, and elevates people, both literally and metaphorically.
Although softwood CLT already exists, HCLT does not. The Plinth is constructed from the first ever commercial pressing of HCLT here in the US, an effort led by IKD out of mix species, low-value hardwoods. IKD was awarded a 2017 Wood Innovation Grant by the US Forest Service to develop this material innovation for the installation and product certification.
The installation is intended to be a catalyst for a new timber industry by upcycling low-value hardwood that are extracted from regional forests. Indiana's largest cash crop is hardwood, but over 55% of each log processed is of low value. The idea is that low-value hardwood, such as grade 3 common oak, hickory, and ash, can be used to create high-value HCLT. HCLT offers numerous benefits over softwood, included superior mechanical properties, material volume savings, and increased resistance to fire.
By demonstrating the viability and the benefits of a new, high value timber market in the mid-west, the project has the potential to initiate a cascade of effects: job growth in rural forestry and manufacturing, diversifying hardwood lumber markets, higher land value, and improved forest management practices to reduce wildfires and encourage biodiversity leading to an abatement of climate change.