Joseph Valenti wants to turn hazardous albizia trees into a useful building material to help ease Hawaii's housing crisis.
The 30-year-old won the University of Hawaii President's Green Project Implementation Award in 2016. His vision is starting to take shape with the first structural arch for the project now on display outside the Honolulu Museum of Art School.
"We have this potential material that's abundantly being disposed of, so if we can turn this into something positive, and if that can solve or at least help to mitigate our housing crisis, that was the intention," he said.
Albizia trees have caused problems statewide, including major damage in Puna during Tropical Storm Iselle. Supporters of The Albizia Project said they're working to overcome misconceptions.
"It's perceived to be sort of structurally weak, and according to some of the preliminary testing that has been done, we've actually found quite the opposite," said Matthew Kamakani Lynch, sustainability coordinator for the UH System.
UH architecture students helped to build the first arch for the full-scale prototype, which will be constructed almost entirely out of Albizia wood.
The two-story structure will have nearly 400-square feet of living space. Besides creating transitional housing, supporters are also excited about the project's potential to remove the invasive trees and restore native ecosystems.
"What if we could create a cottage industry or what if we could create a high-value, sustainable timber industry that's actually removing and replacing invasive species with high-value native species?" said Lynch.
The full-scale prototype is scheduled to be finished outside the UH Manoa School of Architecture in early 2018. The display will remain up for one year.
A public presentation on The Albizia Project will take place on Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. at the Honolulu Museum of Art School.