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.

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.

Inspiring and Building the Next Generation of Residential Energy Professionals

DOE STUDENT CHALLENGE DESIGN AWARDSThe Challenge Home Student Design Competition seeks to inspire the next generation of architects, engineers, construction managers, and entrepreneurs to design homes that meet requirements for zero energy ready performance that are affordable and market-ready. In turn, the competition provides students with skills and experience for careers in clean energy.

This week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced today the winners of the first competition. The winning teams produced market-ready, state of the art design solutions for high-performance homes that are energy efficient, comfortable and durable. The designs are for zero energy ready homes, meaning their high performance features sharply reduce energy use and all or most of the remaining energy use can be offset with renewable energy.

MONTAGE DESIGN TEAM WINNERSWe are honored that one of the winning teams, Montage Builders – Northern Forest, thanked Tedd Benson and Bensonwood Head of Engineering Chris Carbone for inspiration and support. Tedd and Chris met team members and SUNY – ESF students Michelle Tinner and Peter LiCongo recently at the NY Green Building Conference where he was a keynote speaker and Carbone led a session on “Designing and Building with Heavy Timber.”

Montage Builders – Northern Forest student team leader Michelle Tinner describes her team and their influences this way:

“We were very inspired by Tedd’s use of the word montage. Here is how we define the term as it relates to our team name: Montage Builders – Northern Forest. Montage, a combination of different elements that forms a unified whole, references our teams diverse multi-cultural and multi-generational aggregation of perspectives and experiences, which is the key for the success of our design.

Northern Forest acknowledges the importance of regionally specific design and the default (pre-development) landscape of our region – used for accurate site ecosystem service assessment.

Our team was unique in that we brought together students and faculty from three different educational institutions – all other teams represented just one. We also integrated may different disciplines which supported our holistic approach. We have communications designers, interior designers, architects, landscape architects, environmental scientists, engineers, and construction managers on our team.

An important parallel between Tedd Benson’s approach and our’s is the use of natural materials, the reliance on traditional ecological knowledge, and the reference to historically relevant architecture. We used American Craftsman style architecture which was popularized by a local designer Gustav Stickley. The style is inherently honest and promotes the use natural materials like wood, which is locally available and environmentally preferred, it discourages functionless additions such as fake dormers (the McMansion’s failed attempt at not looking silly), and can be found throughout Syracuse’s neighborhood ensuring that our design would fit the local pattern language. Many of the other designs at the competition were modern.

We were all delighted to have Tedd attend our presentation at the New York State Green Building Conference. He smiled at us the entire time we were up there presenting – probably because he was pleasantly surprised that we were using his favorite word. Having his support and that of Chris Carbone, who got us a timber framed pergola quote at the 11th hour was encouraging and meant a lot to us.”

DOE CHALLENGE HOME LOGOThe team was led by three faculty advisors: Paul Crovella, Ken Bobis and Kevin Stack.

Right now, there’s a need to develop cost-effective designs that are at least 40-50% more efficient that a standard new home. These homes are so energy efficient they offset all or most annual energy consumption with a renewable energy system, such as solar.

To support this increased demand, the Energy Department’s Building Technologies Office is helping to develop a strong workforce with core competencies in building science, including direct entry workers, recent college graduates, and those in continuing education through a number of high-impact initiatives and programs, such as the Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals, Solar Decathlon, and the Energy Department’s Challenge Home Student Design Competition.

LEED Platinum-Certified Bensonwood Project Wins 4th Award

A view of the Burr and Burton Mountain Campus Academic Building as you approach from the road.

A view of the Burr and Burton Mountain Campus Academic Building as you approach from the road.

The LEED Platinum-Certified Burr and Burton Academy Mountain Campus in Peru, VT, which Bensonwood designed, engineered and built, is a recipient of the 2014 Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence.

Environmental excellence awards have been given since 1993 to recognize efforts and actions of Vermonters to conserve and protect natural resources, prevent pollution, and promote environmental sustainability. To date, more than 200 efforts have been recognized.

“These projects contribute significantly to Vermont’s environmental quality and encourage others to take similar actions to protect our resources,” said Deb Markowitz, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. “They demonstrate the importance of innovation and partnerships in enhancing and sustaining Vermont’s environmental quality.”

Award winners will be recognized at the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Annual Spring Conference on May 14 at the Davis Center on the University of Vermont campus in Burlington.

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The front entrance of the LEED Platinum-certified, net-zero energy building.

This is the fourth award in the past four months for the building. BBA’s Mountain Campus also won Efficiency Vermont’s 2014 Better Buildings by Design “Best of the Best” in Commercial Building Design and Construction, recognizing innovative and integrated design approaches for energy efficiency in Vermont’s commercial and residential buildings.

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The ultra-efficient masonry heater in the school building is integral to warming the building.

In November, the Mountain Campus earned a prestigious Engineering News-Record “Award of Merit” and in January 2014, it won the “AIA New Hampshire Merit Award.” The AIA jury said: “The respect for the environment is as integral to the architecture as it is to the mission of the school. The jury appreciated how the structure, columns, and framing define the composition and are a metaphor for the forest setting.”

Like Unity Homes and other Bensonwood custom timber frame projects, the building was largely prefabricated offsite and erected quickly in the forested setting to minimize impact to the local ecology.

Passive House Wins Award for “Best Energy-Efficient Project”

Steven and Barbara Landau’s Norwich, Vermont, Passive House won The Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB) Prism Gold Award for “Best Energy-Efficient Project.” Bensonwood, who designed the prefabricated insulated panels and constructed the timberframe shell, was honored as part of a highly-skilled green building team that included energy modeling and mechanical consultantsZeroEnergy Design, consulting architect Paul R. Bilgen, general contractor Estes and Gallup, and custom window and door maker, Architectural Openings. The innovative, sustainable home previously won the 2012 Efficiency Vermont “Best of the Best in Residential New Construction” Honor Award.

The 17-inch recycled foam sheet insulation provides R-75 value and a vapor barrier below the slab. All hot water is provided by two rooftop, flat-plate solar collectors with an electric on-demand water heater for backup. One kilowatt heating mats located under floor tiles in the bathrooms supply radiant heating, and air exchange is managed by a Heat Recovery Ventilator whose operation automatically adjusts, depending on temperature, humidity, and occupancy. In the kitchen/living room a sealed combustion chamber wood stove serves both as cooktop and bake oven, as well as a source of supplemental heat. The eco-friendly 2,457 square foot home also earned 41 Home Energy Rating index points, meaning it is 59% more efficient than a standard new home.

BRAGB, a trade association affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders and Home Builders Association of Massachusetts, has represented the building industry since 1944 and is one of the leading trade associations in New England.