Bensonwood Associate’s Visionary Design on Display at Boston Society of Architects Exhibit

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Urban Timber: From Seed to City,” a new exhibit at the Boston Society of Architects’ Gallery Space, celebrates wood as a natural and sensible building material for cities, while highlighting wood’s adaptability, versatility and extraordinary technical qualities. It also highlights some innovative thinking going on at Bensonwood.

Included on display at the BSA Space — and the result of an open competition — are four winning projects proposed by emerging architects featuring innovative structural uses of timber.

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Bensonwood Designer Tim Olson assembling his Coopered Column. Photo by Ethan Lacy.

The winners collaborated with mentor architects, engineers and material suppliers to develop and realize their installations in the gallery. Each piece in the exhibit is an art project — and would look right at home in any modern art gallery — but is trying to prove a design theory.

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Aaron Forrest inside of his “Four Corners.” Photo by © Winnie Man | QtMousie Studios

Two of the four design installations in the exhibition involve Bensonwood associates. The first, “Four Corners” by Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest, enlisted Bensonwood chief structural engineer Chris Carbone as a mentor. The Four Corners installation turns the traditional timberframed New England barn inside out using cross-laminated timber.

The second, Bensonwood Designer  Tim Olson’s dynamic “Coopered Column,” weighs about 3,000 pounds and consists of 118 timber pieces and over 250 screws. Titled “coopered” because it borrows from the design of a barrel; the interlocking timbers act like staves, and a belt of screws holding it together mimic the metal hoop of a barrel or other wooden vessel made by craftsmen known as coopers.

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Bensonwood Designer Tim Olson with his award-winning “Coopered Column” installation.

Olson’s bowl-like installation is called a column because a cylindrical support was his original design, a wooden structure that could handle the weight of a skyscraper. He flattened the column into a bowl shape to demonstrate how the design could handle stresses necessary to support a building. You can listen to a recent NHPR story on Tim’s installation.

The exhibit also explores how using wood in mid-rise buildings can combat climate change and underscores wood’s potential as the need for high-performance, low environmental impact structures continues to increase in our urban centers.

P1000928In addition to exploring wood technology and recent innovations in the array of engineered timber available to architects and engineers, the Urban Timber exhibit dispels common myths associated with building in timber, such as the notion that heavy timber is not sufficiently fire resistant. In some instances, engineered wood retains its integrity even better than steel. Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), for example, has a higher resistance to fire because of its thickness since the outer layers, when charred, protect the inner layers, just as a large-diameter tree does in a forest fire.

While the perception of wood in America as a lesser building material endures, Yugon Kim, founding owner/partner of IKD and co-curator of the BSA exhibit,  believes that Urban Timber: From Seed to City will show that the use of timber as the primary structure in mid-rise building construction in Europe proves there is a new future for wood buildings.

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Tim Olson’s Coopered Column under construction. Click to see architect Ethan Lacy’s time-lapse video of it being built.

Urban use of heavy timber has long been an interest here at Bensonwood. In 2007, Bensonwood and Unity Homes founder Tedd Benson was a leader of the UMass Amherst Wood Structures Symposium that explored technological advances in green buildings, as well as digital fabrication with wood and engineered wood products. Organized by the university’s Building Materials and Wood Technology program, the event highlighted new advances in contemporary wood architecture and presaged the current interest in building high-rises with wood. Currently, the tallest wooden buildings are only around 100 feet tall, but constructing much taller timber buildings is now a realistic idea.

In recent years, the technical advances that Bensonwood and Unity Homes have helped develop have given rise to a broad range of process innovations, such as CNC milling and off-site assembly, as well as engineered-wood products with superior performance qualities, such as the glulams (glued, laminated timber) and CLTs used in nearly all of our projects for their strength, flexibility and reliability.

Thanks to novel composites and engineered wood products, such as glulam beams and CLTs, several multistory buildings have already been erected around the world with timber skeletons, and plans for taller buildings are in the works.

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Image: “Four Corners” by Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest. Photograph © Winnie Man | QtMousie Studios.

Urban timber proponents have been making a larger argument to the building industry and to policy makers that to build cities with a lower environmental impact, wood is not just promising but necessary. It’s a plentiful resource that grows back relatively quickly, and even pulls carbon out of the atmosphere during its life cycle.

Architect Michael Green, a passionate advocate for building wood high-rises,said in a recent TED Talk, “Steel represents about three percent of man’s greenhouse emissions, and concrete is over five percent.” He estimates that every 20-story building made out of wood instead of steel or concrete saves around 4,300 tons of carbon, equal to around 900 cars removed from the road in a year.

There are still some major environmental issues to tackle, of course, such as how greatly increased timber harvesting would affect our ecosystem. However, the USDA recently announced a major initiative to promote innovative, sustainable wood building materials for environmental protection and job creation.

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The exhibition was curated and designed by Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, principals of the Boston-based architecture firm IKD.

The Urban Timber show will remain on display in the BSA Space at 290 Congress Street in Boston through September 30. Admission is free and open to the public. The public program includes a series of collaborative public workshops and lectures to provide extra platforms for dialogue and knowledge-sharing between key players in the industry. For more information on the Urban Timber exhibit, visit the BSA website.

On the Boards: Cape Cod Pool House

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In keeping with this month’s “Everyone into the Pool” theme, here is a charming little pool house we are helping fabricate on Cape Cod.

Designed by Rebecca Elsy Ribeiro of D. Michael Collins, Architects, the energy-efficient building features classic colonial carriage house styling with cupola and a sheltered overhang.

Bensonwood is crafting the timberframe, insulated wall and roof panels, and installing the Marvin Ultimate windows and a Marvin outswing bifold door. The timberframe consists of Douglas fir glulam timbers for the main structure and for the exterior timbers​.

Kenneth Vona Construction, a company that very much shares Bensonwood’s values, will be the builder. KVC is not only one of New England’s oldest and most respected custom builders, it is also one of the greenest.

pool house elevationsTheir ideal six-sided building envelope is one that breathes, insulates against losses, sheds water away for sustainability and remains energy efficient and reusable. Like Bensonwood, KVC believes a commitment to environmental responsibility results in immediate payback and comfort.

timber frame design for cape cod pool houseD. Michael Collins, Architects is a small, but high-quality design firm established in Natick, Massachusetts, in 1987. They specialize in new custom homes, additions and renovations, small scale commercial, institutional and historic restoration projects.

Most of the firm’s projects are located in Massachusetts, but they also have projects in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Colorado, Florida and the Caribbean.

We’ll profile more design-build collaborations with D. Michael Collins, Architects and Kenneth Vona Construction in the months ahead.

Texas Prefab Lake House

austin texas lake house 1 An admitted This Old House fanatic, Matt Risinger had grown up watching the PBS television series when, in 1989, a program aired that would change his life. The Wickwire Barn Series—the second time Bensonwood had appeared on the long running home improvement program— featured Tedd Benson and an old barn being converted to a new house: a project Matt had dreamed of building for himself someday. It became the seminal moment in his decision to become the best builder he could be.

Mette Aamodt AIA and Andrew Plumb AIA

Mette Aamodt, AIA & Andrew Plumb, AIA

Fast forward nearly two-and-a-half decades, and architect Andrew Plumb of award-winning Aamodt / Plumb Architects in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is looking for a builder to help assemble and finish out a highly custom modern timberframe ranch home he designed for a special client he has known for years. The lakeside projectTEXAS PREFAB, expected to approach near Passive House standards, would have an aggressive build schedule of one year, and it needed to come in at a fixed budget—so Andrew knew it had to be done right. His first thought was to call Bensonwood for its expertise in the sustainable fabrication of high performance homes, and his second thought was to call green builder, Matt Risinger, now of Risinger Homes, to say Tedd Benson’s company would be fabricating and installing the home’s shell. With the name “Benson” still fresh in his mind after a quarter century, Matt jumped at the opportunity. The home plan, viewable on the Aamodt / Plumb website, is a interpretation of the Texas Ranch vernacular, with two gabled buildings joined by a light-filled entry hall. Designed for a young family, this prefab home strives to create a relaxed, contemporary feel through the use of natural and reclaimed materials, ample daylighting and a thoughtful relationship to the site.

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Austin, Texas green builder Matt Risinger

“We sought to create a warm modern atmosphere through the interplay of simple forms, materials and natural light,” says Plumb. The play of the modern and rustic is achieved through material choices and elemental forms. Japanese (Shou Sugi Ban style) charred wood siding, mesquite and ash flooring, and an oversized FireRock masonry chimney and fireplace add a dramatic touch both inside and out. texas green prefab architects renderingThe light-filled open interior, with its elegant but simple timberframe, richly-finished flooring and high-end fixtures, perfectly complements the striking exterior while framing the surrounding views. Matt Risinger asserts that, “The most sustainable house is a pretty one. Architect-designed houses will be loved and cared for because they are beautiful. Ugly houses will fall into disrepair and be torn down eventually.” fireplaceBeyond the aesthetics, this house was designed to coast through the hot parts of the day with little need for air conditioning. This is achieved through rigorous attention to air sealing and our panelization process using super-insulated walls. All the exterior claddings are installed over a rain-screen air gap. The roof, wood siding and even stucco have an air gap behind them so that the potential for water intrusion over the life of the building is minimized. Risinger installed super-efficient mechanical equipment to make the best possible use of the resources consumed. 95%+ efficiency gas equipment, super high-efficiency AC, Ultra-Aire Split Dehumidifier prevents mold and allows the owners to keep thermostat settings high when the building is unoccupied.YOUTUBE TIMELAPSE IMAGE You can watch Matt Risinger’s YouTube video of the home being assembled here. Once the project is completed and finish photos become available, we will revisit this home to detail its space plan. Stay tuned.

Bensonwood Designer Tim Olson Wins AIA-VT Emerging Professionals Award

Tim Olson Common Core Library

Bensonwood Design team member Tim Olson took Third Place in the AIA Vermont 2014 Emerging Professionals Network Design Competition: “Engaging the Public Library.”

The Emerging Professionals Network of Vermont is a component of AIA Vermont, and serves local emerging professionals by representation on the AIAVT Board of Directors, while in turn educating members about important developments within the design and construction industry. The EPN also serves a larger purpose by organizing events and projects that bring together students, young designers and experienced architects, in order to promote architecture and good design in the community.

Contrary to popular belief, public libraries are not a declining institution. Over the past 12 years (a period experiencing a dramatic expansion of the internet as well as a shrinking of public funding) yearly visits, program attendance and total income for Vermont public libraries have increased by more than 50%. Therefore, the issue is not making libraries relevant again, but strengthening the relevance of libraries for the future.

The competition asked emerging architectural professionals from around New England to design an architectural intervention that reinforces and expands the relevance of the public library.

Competitors specifically addressed:

–          How can architectural interventions catalyze the exchange of ideas in a library and its community?

–          What programs and amenities can attract new user groups while maintaining existing patrons?

–          How is a public library a distinct form of access for information, knowledge and discussion?

–          What is the contemporary function, role and identity of the New England public library?

Tim Olson AIA Vermont Board

Entries came in from emerging professionals in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island, with designs in the form of additions, renovations, and satellite structures under 2,000 square feet. Winners were selected by a jury of architects, librarians and community members who considered graphic clarity, originality and cohesiveness of concept.

Tim’s entry, The Common Core, proposed that libraries provide an essential and rare type of civic space where populations can collect and engage in the social construction of community through the cohabitation of a shared resource.

Olson imagined a Public Library with a central space at its core that could be accessed and utilized by a larger cross section of the population. This space could be activated both during normal library hours for children’s programs, reading rooms and study space. In the after hours, or for special events the space could transform into a lounge, community living room, or an ad-hoc movie theater—a space designed to host book openings, film screenings, public lectures and art events. The Common Core offers the insertion of a “stage” and adjoining “fly loft” to make this diversity of programs possible.

The exhibit will be displayed at the Pierson Library in Shelburne, Vermont, and then travel around the state with the AIAVT Design Awards.

The Common Core offers the insertion of a “stage” and adjoining “fly loft” to make this diversity of programs possible. By radically compacting furnishings into a vertical space, an expansion in the programmatic potentials can be accomplished while maintaining the urban location, historic facade and footprint of the New England Public Library.

The exhibit will be displayed at the Pierson Library in Shelburne, Vermont and then travel around the state with the AIAVT Design Awards.

1st evoDOMUS – Bensonwood Project Underway

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Architect’s Rendering by Alexander Kolbe

When husband and wife architects Alexander and Michelle Kolbe, co-founders of evoDOMUS, a Cleveland-based firm, wanted to design and build high-quality, sustainable homes in the U.S., they went looking for a manufacturing partner who could match the quality of homes they built in Alexander’s native country of Germany.

They sought a montage homebuilding company of the caliber of the venerable Huf Haus and Baufritz, Germany’s leading off-site building companies, which helped establish off-site panelized building as the primary construction methodology throughout Europe. Both companies are more than a century old and, like Bensonwood Unity Homes, combine timber framing influences with advanced design and high-performance building.

However, the Kolbes wanted a more personal connection to the client through the entire process—the level of attention a smaller company could provide—to reduce the stress homeowners often associate with a custom house project, such as designers not tuned-in to their clients’ needs, unreliable contractors, as well as schedule and budget overruns. After thoroughly researching high-quality panelized builders, fabricators and timberframers, the names Tedd Benson and Bensonwood kept popping up. So Alexander got on the phone and, much to his astonishment, Tedd picked up.

Upon hearing of the Kolbes’ high standards and montage building interest, Tedd replied, “That’s exactly what we’re doing!” A meeting with Tedd and project manager Hans Porschitz followed and it was soon apparent that the synergies and shared values of the two companies were aligned. A relationship was established: Bensonwood would fabricate the evoDOMUS home shells.

Now, the first joint project between evoDOMUS and Bensonwood is underway in Fairfield County Connecticut: a 5,000+ SF 4-bedroom Bauhaus-inspired modernist home in the “Cloud” Series of evoDOMUS homes. Strikingly original and family-friendly, Cloud is also inspired by current Mexican and Spanish interpretations of modern residential architecture. Customized to their clients’ needs, the home’s clean lines, contemporary materials and use of advanced building science are all characteristic of evoDOMUS home designs.

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East & West Elevations

Designing the home for its two-acre site had its challenges; its wooded setting with wetlands, an awkward slope and rock ledges all needed careful  consideration. In addition, the home had to incorporate passive as well as active solar design, requiring precise siting along with design elements such as a south-facing second floor loggia to shade the first floor in summer months.

The Kolbes’ strong focus on sustainability prompted the use of triple-glazed Loewen windows and a Zender Energy Recovery Ventilator, which recovers up to 90% of the energy of the extract air to warm the incoming fresh air, saving on heating costs. The air distribution system then channels the optimally tempered fresh air to individual rooms as needed. The exterior is clad in Resysta siding made of rice husks, common salt and mineral oil, which makes it both environmentally friendly as well as extremely weather resistant against sun, rain, snow or salt water. Resysta siding also requires minimal care and offers the look and feel of wood and can be painted.
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The home has 4,100 SF of living space with 2 stories above grade and a 900 SF finished basement and 924 SF garage. Off the garage are a mud room, a half bath and a yoga fitness room. The first floor has an open great room with living and dining areas adjoining another open space with a kitchen and family room. Rounding out the first floor is a bedroom/study with adjacent bath. The second floor plan includes the master bedroom, three additional bedrooms (each open to a long balcony), a family bath, a study and a laundry room.

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First Floor Plan

EvoDOMUS uses low or no VOC paints and finishes in their homes and only formaldehyde-free materials. Material selections consist primarily of products with high-recycle content, as well as FSC certified woods and bamboo.

Alexander and Michelle Kolbe wanted to offer their customers not only the highest quality, sustainable homes available, but an excellent experience as well. By partnering with Bensonwood, evoDOMUS could put its resources into delivering superior design, customer service and care, rather than making investment in fabrication facilities, with financial partners and the loss of control and client interaction that would imply.

By maintaining that control, evoDOMUS is able to fulfill its mission of making homes as beautifully designed and high quality as German cars—with a customer experience to match.

A White Mountains Contemporary

Q&A with Owner/Builder Jeff Gilbert

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How did you learn about us?

“I am Vice-Chair of the board of the non-profit New Hampshire Preservation Alliance and last fall we attended a retreat which toured  Southwestern NH, stopping at the Bensonwood Woodworking Shop in Alstead. While there, Tedd Benson showed up and gave an engaging talk on Bensonwood’s blend of craft and technology to build better houses. That eventually led to continued discussions with Tedd and (Bensonwood architect) Randall Walter on a home project I was working on in the White Mountains.”

What about Bensonwood resonated with you?

“I had a generic interest in utilizing computer technology in the integration of design and systems. The flexibility implicit in Bensonwood’s design and fabrication appealed to me. I was especially interested in Bensonwood’s approach to building systems: craftsmen-created with superior fit and finish, all leading to energy-efficient and environmentally friendly homes. The whole concept of applying technology to the home to make a better product interested me.”

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How did you get interested in building science?

“For a while, after law school in 1971, I moonlighted for Emil Hanslin & Tony Hanslin of Yankee Barn, selling lots at the Eastman Four Season recreational community in Grantham, NH, when I wasn’t doing my day job as a lawyer. I became interesting in building systems and off-site fabrication, as a better approach to building homes.”

“Later I became interested in the fabrication of homes and followed Acorn Deck House and others.”

How did you arrive at the distinctive design for your home?

“I had been working with an architect to design a contemporary home, but was looking for a more  overtly contemporary and distinctive design. Working with Randall Walter and Tim Olson, we were able to achieve this through the use of  dramatic shed roofs  and glass curtain walls.”

How interested were you in energy performance”

smallGilbert_7“In one of my conversations with Tedd, he mentioned that Bensonwood homes, properly sited, could maintain 42 degrees F in the dead of a northern New England winter—with the heat turned off! This appealed to me because we’ll only live part of the year in our White Mountain home. Also, with the low load of the building envelope, I can use a relatively small forced air HVAC system.”

Tell me about the property and the siting of your house.

“The house is sited south and east to take advantage of the spectacular 180 degree view overlooking the jewel of the state park system: Franconia Notch and Ridge, Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Liberty, Haystack Mountain, and Cannon Mountain ski area and, further to the east, Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. This southeast exposure will also take advantage of passive solar.”

smallMBR Glass Porch_2“My wife, who had grown up in the Littleton area and I  bought the property from a next door neighbor, who happened to be her choir teacher in school. The land abuts a two-acre conservation parcel that is a lupin field.”

How have you found working with Bensonwood so far?

“It’s been a collaborative experience: working harmoniously to develop the design. And as far as flexibility goes, being a developer, I like that I could get the high quality shell from Bensonwood, and then general contract the job myself. That really made sense for me.”

 

jeffrey-gilbertJeff Gilbert is a businessman who graduated from Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He practiced law for 14 years, and thereafter spent a number of years as an investment banker. Currently, he is one of the two principals of W.J.P. Development, LLC that owns and manages three community shopping centers in New Hampshire. Since 2000, Mr. Gilbert has been active in politics, serving as a NH State Representative until 2005. From 2002 to 2004, he was Vice Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Chairman of the State Revenue Estimating Panel, Chairman of the Joint House and Senate Economic Development Study Committee, and a member of the joint House and Senate Higher Education Oversight Committee. Mr. Gilbert presently serves the State as Treasurer of the Port Advisory Council and as a member of the State Parks System Advisory Council. He is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of New Hampshire Public Broadcasting and President of the Board of Trustees of The Housing Partnership, a local organization providing affordable and workforce housing in the seacoast region. He is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Portsmouth Athenaeum. Mr. Gilbert has three grown children and resides with his wife in Rye, New Hampshire.

 

Homes Matter by Tedd Benson

Courtesy: The Keene Sentinel. From the latest issue of Business Monadnock 

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

Screenshot 2014-05-16 13.08.55Many years ago, when we pulled our company associates together to try to draft a collective mission statement for our homebuilding company, we came to an unexpected conclusion. As we kept asking questions about why we do what we do, and why clients engage us for what is usually the biggest investment of their lives, we came to understand there’s an important ideal beyond the simple execution of our crafts for the straight-forward purpose. READ MORE