UVA Sawmilling Contest Aims for Wider Audience

January 5, 2023 By Bryan McKenzie, bkm4s@virginia.edu Bryan McKenzie, bkm4s@virginia.edu

Picnic table, garden bench or gazebo guitar – if you’ve thought about building it, University of Virginia Sawmilling not only wants to hear about it, but they will also help you make it. And they’ve got plenty of wood to turn your idea into reality.

“We’ve been around about three years and we’ve reached a point where we want to engage people on another level,” said Tim Victorio, who holds a master’s degree in architecture from UVA and is cofounder of UVA Sawmilling. He is a lecturer in the UVA School of Architecture where he teaches introductory architecture courses.

If you have a big idea, but little experience with tools and techniques, Victorio said the sawmillers have your back.

“If you know you want to build something, but don’t know how to build it, we want to make that a possibility,” he said. “We’ll put you in touch with the people who do know how to build it and can help you figure it out and maybe put some tools in your hands so you can learn how to do it yourself.”

Victorio said the sawmillers hope to encourage others in the University community to experience designing and building a project. That’s why they are hosting Mill to Build, their first competition. The idea is that the friendly contest will capture the interest of students, faculty and staff across the University who have a dream of making something.

The organization has the wood readily available. Officially founded in 2020 by Victorio and alumnus Andrew Spears, its original goal was to give trees taken down on UVA property a chance to live on as milled lumber offered to the University community and community at large.

The University owns a lot of properties and there’s a lot of building going on, which means trees are coming down. Rather than chip the trees into small pieces, UVA Sawmilling mills the trees into usable lumber for potential material research, student projects, furnishings or elements for campus buildings and outdoor spaces on Grounds.

So far, the program’s wood has been used for projects like tables for the School of Architecture and raised-bed gardens and garden roof structures at Morven Farms. Still, there is a surfeit of lumber.

“We’re getting more [wood] than we can use now. That log pile is growing weekly,” said Allyson Gibson, program assistant for UVA Sawmilling and a master’s degree candidate in landscape architecture. “We used to mill about twice a year.”

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A wooden structure built by Architecture students on the north terrace
Built of ash and pine wood, a structure designed and built by an independent study group of 10 students from the landscape and architecture programs stands on the north terrace at the UVA School of Architecture. UVA Sawmilling milled the wood specifically for the project, saving the study group the costs of materials. (Contributed photo)

During the fall semester, the group milled lumber three times and was looking at a fourth,Gibson said.

Mill to Build is a way to make that wood available not just to architecture students and faculty, but anyone in any school or department, from theater to mathematics.

The contest calls for small-scale installations no larger than 8 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet – designs that spark conversation between team members, reflect various disciplinary backgrounds and emphasize the sustainable use of wood.

The design will be placed on the North Terrace of the School of Architecture, a large open area that provides designers with multiple site and perspective options. Designers are encouraged to check out the location when creating a design.

The winning design will be built by the end of the academic year.

Registration for the contest is open until Jan. 11. Proposals must be in one minute before midnight on Jan. 22. A three-member jury will review plans and select a winning proposal, to be announced Jan. 25.

The competition is open to everyone.

“It allows us to say, ‘You don’t know how to build that? That’s fine. You design and we will show you how to build it.’ We want this to be open to others to whom another competition may not be,” Victorio said.

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“There is sometimes a sort of veil between what you know and what you need to know. This is a unique opportunity for students to be involved in to help lift that veil. It’s a single step, but it may help spread the word,” Gibson said.

The contest, they hope, will call attention to the project as well as the availability of local lumber.

“A lot of designers are excited by competition, by getting chosen and then having their designs built,” Victorio said. “But we wanted to open it up to a wider audience, to give others who are maybe not in architecture a chance. It’s a designer’s dream to be able to show off your designs and this is a way to do it.”

Designers will get to see the whole process.

“We’re going through the process right from the log we get,” Gibson said. “You see the milling into lumber and two-by-fours and the process that we go through to create the lumber that is used. We want students in the competition to see that, to be a part of that.”

While the 8-foot cube size may seem limiting, Victorio also sees it as liberating.

“This is our first competition and we want to make sure it’s doable. Without it being too large, designers can get into it from different schools and they can consider designs using different joints and looking at woodgrains,” he said.

“That’s something we want to promote as designers – that you can use a more sustainable material such as wood in your designs,” Gibson said. “We also want to bring in people from other schools, to bring the idea more and more into everyday life. We’re hoping to create a current around the competition to bring attention to the use of sustainability.”

Media Contact

Bryan McKenzie

Assistant Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications