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.

tim olson Bensonwood designer

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 Featured in “The New Net Zero” by William Maclay

the new net zeroThe New Net Zero: Leading-Edge Design and Construction of Homes and Buildings for a Renewable Energy Future

Bensonwood is featured prominently in a new book on Net Zero building by renowned architect William Maclay. We collaborated with Maclay Architects as a member of the team which designed and built the award-winning net-zero Bosarge Family Education Center at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. The LEED Platinum-certified center was Maine’s first net-zero institutional building.

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WILLIAM T. MACLAY, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

The new threshold for green building is not just low energy, it is net-zero energy, and in The New Net Zero, sustainable architect William Maclay charts the path for designers and builders interested in exploring green design’s new frontier—net-zero energy structures generating as much energy as they use while remaining carbon neutral.

Since traditional American buildings account for roughly 40 percent of our total fossil energy use, the significance of net-zero building is growing increasingly important—among designers interested in addressing climate change as well as homeowners concerned about energy efficiency and long-term savings.

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The Bosarge Family Education Center at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Photo by Robert Benson

Maclay, an award-winning net-zero designer whose buildings have achieved high-performance goals at affordable costs, makes the case for a net-zero future; explains net-zero building metrics, integrated design practices, and renewable energy options; and shares his lessons learned on net-zero teambuilding with like-minded companies such as Bensonwood.

The comprehensive overview is accompanied by several case studies, which include institutional buildings such as the Bosarge Family Education Center, commercial projects, and residences.  Both new-building and renovation projects are covered in detail. Unity Homes is profiled in the book, as is our multi-layered Open-Built® system.

The New Net Zero is geared toward professionals studying net-zero design, but is also suitable for laypersons seeking inspiration and strategies for beautiful and renewably powered net-zero options.

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.

Customized Unity Xyla 212 Sits Softly on the Land

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Artist’s rendering of our standard Unity Homes Xyla 212.

Dan Farrell and Melora Kennedy have long been interested in nature conservation. So when they wanted to build a healthy, comfortable, energy-efficient home — close enough to town that he could walk or bicycle to work—a friend, builder and energy consultant, Mark Snyder, suggested they call Unity Homes. Dan works for the Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy as their Conservation Information Manager/GIS Analyst. Melora teaches preschool and kindergarten. The “GIS” in Dan’s title stands for Geographic Information Systems: a science which lets us visualize, question, analyze, interpret and understand data to reveal relationships, patterns, and trends. In the conservation context, GIS would come in handy in evaluating the impact his new home would have on his sloped, 8.9 acre parcel of land, with its old field species and natural plantings — some edible — as well as diverse wildlife crossings.Screenshot 2014-06-23 10.06.14 Unity’s low-waste off-site fabrication and rapid on-site assembly — coupled with its natural materials, extraordinary energy efficiency, and energy-sipping mechanical systems — will all help to reduce the carbon footprint on the sensitive landscape. Their Xyla 212, customized for a walkout, is heated and cooled with an air source heat pump and an optional ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator) to condition air with minimal energy loss. Both HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) and ERV systems are vastly more energy efficient than plain ventilation systems or exhaust-only systems with no heat or energy recovery. Despite its higher up-front cost, Dan chose an ERV system for its edge in operating efficiencies, air filtration, degree of comfort (through greater humidification/dehumidification control) and environmental impact.

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The Air Pohoda ERV used in the Farrell home in a special housing devised by our Building Systems team.

Unity’s standard HRV system is designed to recover approx 80% of the heat in the air that is being exhausted from the house, while the ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilation system) is expected to recover over 90%. Given the ERV’s added efficiency, there would be a relatively short payback period on its premium cost over the standard HRV system. In comparing the ventilation systems, the ERV units are expected to save about 1315 kWh per year over the HRV system. At $0.15/ kWh, that comes to almost $200 per year at the current electric rate, with those savings continuing to rise as electricity rates increase. The Return On Investment calculator projects an 11-year payback on the $3,000 additional investment over the cost of a comparable HRV system.  (Source: EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.) IMGP7792But for Dan and Melora, it wasn’t just a matter of dollars and cents. Framing it more in conservation terms, the 1,315 kWh per year saved by their ERV over the HRV, is equivalent to 102 gallons of gas, 97 lbs. of coal or 21 barrels of oil. Saving that energy would be the carbon equivalent of 23 tree seedlings grown for 10 years or 0.75 Acres of forest grown in one year. The 2-bedroom, 1-bath Unity Xyla, with its super-efficient 1,028 SF first floor space plan and optional 939 SF walkout level, celebrates the lagom values at the heart of all Unity Homes. Roughly translated, lagom is a Swedish word meaning “not too much, not too little —  appropriately balanced.” The home is neither too big nor too small, but just right perched lightly on its steeply sloped site and in-balance with its surroundings. work in progress Xyla 212Entry is from the up-slope side (and future patio) directly into the living area, which is open to the eat-in kitchen and second bedroom. Down a short hallway and adjacent to bedroom two is the master bedroom and common bath. Dan and Melora plan to leave the ground floor, with its separate down-slope entry, unfinished for the time being, but it will eventually have a rec room and second bath. With the home fabricated off-site and assembled on-site over late spring/early summer, the Farrells expect to be in their home by mid August.

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.

Sunday River Ski Retreat: The Best of All Worlds

Tedford ElevationSome ski homes high on the mountain have beautiful views down the valley. Others near the base lodge typically have great views up the slopes. This timberframe home at The Glades at Ridge Run, a new slopeside residential neighborhood at Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine, captures both.

Situated in the western mountains of Maine just three hours from Boston, Sunday River Resort has long been one of New England’s most popular four-season playgrounds, but what is so special about the property that owners Meredith and Jamie found here is that it sits uniquely midway up the mountain with expansive views above and below.

Though Meredith and Jamie had just completed an extensive renovation on another home and weren’t anxious to begin a new construction, this was the first time a ski-on, ski-off home opportunity was available at Sunday River, so the couple knew they had to jump on it. They were also motivated to replace an old beloved, but small, ski lodge they had outgrown. Sensitive to the feeling of transplanting their relatives away from a getaway that had been in the family for years, they wanted an open concept floor plan with the feel of a true home. They also wanted to maximize family interaction, and minimize the size of the house to facilitate that function—as well as for aesthetic and environmental impact motives.

sunday river family ski lodge renderingPast renovations had taught Meredith and Jamie to be flexible but decisive, which helped in this first new house project. They also knew from experience that “design by committee” was something to be avoided, rather it was better to create a team dynamic between client and architect that respected roles and responsibilities, but also valued input from all parties. The mutual trust that developed allowed changes to be made fluidly and without conflict.

The Bensonwood design team of Randall Walter, Curtis Fanti and Dave Levasseur, all avid skiers in their own right, were excited to create this special place from a perspective of years spent skiing and snowboarding. Their personal insights proved invaluable in informing practical aspects of the design.

The architectural review process at the resort and the corresponding design standards requires development that complements the surrounding natural setting; minimizing the impact on the landscape while allowing for individual freedom of design to suit the needs of each homeowner. A common theme, described as a Northeast Cottage with Adirondack and Shingle Style influences, dictates the use of building materials, colors, landscaping and building style at the resort. The style is best illustrated in Summer Cottages in the White Mountains by Bryant F. Tolles, Jr. (2000), in which the use of native materials blended with natural colors provides an effective link to both the local environment and the great cottage architecture of the early 20th century.

Sunday river ski lodgeWorking closely with the clients, the resort, the civil engineering firm Main-Land Development Consultants, Inc., and the town zoning board, Randall was able to design the energy-efficient home into a challenging site with steep terrain and protected wetlands. He was able to navigate the regulations and arrive at the design—a traditional Adirondack timber lodge style with a modern twist on the gables to accommodate the views—in a way that pleased all the parties involved. In the end, the review board process was easy and the owners got a home that fit their needs and respectfully fit the mountain landscape.

Another welcome test for Bensonwood is the truncated construction timeline. With designs finalized this past spring, the owners wanted to ski from the home this coming winter. Anxious to prove that even a custom 3,900 SF mountain home on an undeveloped site could go up in record time with our Open-Built® systems and offsite fabrication, the Bensonwood team embraced the challenge. Rapid onsite assembly will also help cut build times in half over conventional construction, effectively giving the homeowners an entire extra season to enjoy the resort.

ski deckLike many of Bensonwood’s mountain and shore homes, the house features gable roof lines, with one important distinction: these gables, dormers and bump outs will have asymmetric rooflines that permit both mountain and valley vistas as well as views of arriving and departing skiers. These roof angles, along with the heavy, rough sawn, red cedar clapboards, work to give the exterior its distinctive look: at the same time both traditional and contemporary, while the property’s southern exposure allows for plenty of natural daylighting and passive solar gain.

On the inside every detail of the sanctuary, which will accommodate three generations of family, has been strategically planned. The owners wanted to maximize the use of space, and that included the kids’ space on the ground level, with the fun feel of a ski resort locker area. The ground floor has a rustic lumberjack-inspired kids zone, with a mud room off the garage, an open play area, a game room, a guest bedroom, a bunkroom with three beds, and facing his and hers bathrooms.

The first floor has a large open space plan with cathedral ceiling and a gathering area across from the kitchen/pantry and adjacent to the dining area. The dining room will have a long, farmhouse-style table with benches accommodating 10 or more. The second floor plan has three bedroom suites, each with their own bath, and a balcony open to the gathering area below.

sunday river ski lodge renderingPerhaps the most unique feature of the project, however, is a very innovative ski-on, ski-off deck. The custom deck required Randall to create a multi-functional outdoor living space with views up and down the mountain in a style that also satisfied design review board restrictions. His solution was adjust the roof pitch and angles so skiers on the deck will still be able to enjoy the views, as he had done on the main house.

Mindful of the homeowners’ sensitivities to limiting the home’s size, he placed the deck atop the garage so skiers will have easy to the home’s bathrooms and kitchen on the main floor when they ski home at lunchtime. Unique features include a hot tub—not tucked away in a secluded spot as is often seen—but in the open air on the sheltered ski deck so all guests have ready access. There are also ski and snowboard racks, overhead heating elements, a fireplace and a hot tub on the deck.

FLOORPLANOne of the most creative elements of the home is one the clients devised. Rather than the traditional guest book for visitors to sign, the couple will immortalize them with a round timber into which they can carve their names and the dates they stay, creating a family legacy crafted in wood that will last for generations—just like the home.

Architect Randall Walter predicts that, like many vacation homes Bensonwood has crafted over the past 40 years, this house will be used much more than originally intended, because families often discover they enjoy spending time in them so much more than in their primary residence.

 

 

 

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.