A Passive House Design (with a Few Curves Thrown In)

passive house designUnlike many panelized home builders who enclose their home shells using standard XPS and EPS foam core SIPs exclusively, Bensonwood builds many of its own structural, insulated wall and roof panels to realize the visions of its in-house design team and outside architects alike, while reducing waste by eliminating cutouts for doors and windows, which are not recyclable and end up in landfills.

Our walls feature dense-pack cellulose for insulation (a renewable, recycled product), and can be easily upgraded to extreme R-Value and air tightness for Passive House levels of performance. They also incorporate our Open-Built® chases for easy access to wiring and plumbing.

passive house curvesPerhaps best of all, our custom panels can accommodate curved walls and join complex, compound roof pitches to realize the contemporary designs of even the most innovative architects. One such Passive House design, by Jonathan Knowles and Laura Briggs of Briggs Knowles Architecture + Design, is a strategically sited home on a wooded lot in the Hudson River Valley of New York. Passive House is a rapidly emerging standard requiring that buildings use extremely small amounts of energy for heating and cooling.

The striking 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath house re-imagines the often utilitarian designs of the Passive House vernacular with its own unique curvilinear aesthetic, open space plan and multi-level views.

passive house walls panelThe first-floor plan includes a living area with a wood stove and screened porch, a separate kitchen and dining area, 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a mechanical room, and a polished concrete floor. The dining area and one of the bedrooms are built into the curvature of the outer wall design, creating interesting interior spaces and angled wall partitions.

The second-floor plan has a generous, curved master suite complete with a large walk-in closet, sauna, bamboo wood floor, balcony, and dramatic, cantilevered porch. Rounding out the second floor is a large playroom open on one end to the living area below.

Bensonwood delivered and rapidly raised the home shell in the middle of winter, with R-49 roof panels and R-35 wall panels pre-installed with Zola triple-glazed windows. From there, the on-site builder, John Hommel of Ashley Homes, added additional layers of insulation to easily bring the house up to Passive House levels of performance.

A Classic Barn for a Classic Car Enthusiast

elevation of classic car garageAre you one of those people who owns a classic car and longs for an appropriate place to keep your dream machine? That was the impetus behind one car enthusiast’s desire to physically connect his passion for collectible automobiles to his existing 1930s Delaware residence. The owner, who has an existing garage for his family cars, tools around in a ‘76 Triumph TR6 and hopes to acquire more vintage cars once his new timber frame car barn is completed next month. The result will be an architecturally true barn and connector addition that can drive home, literally, his automotive passion.

The barn and connector were designed by Patrick McDonough, of John Milner Architects, to integrate and reflect the style of the existing main house while adding to the majesty and proportion of the façade.

classic car garage elevationBensonwood was hired by the owner/builder, a repeat client, to fabricate and raise the free-standing timber frame barn shell. The lengthy connector joining the house with the barn will be site-built by Dewson Construction Company, a Delaware-based general contractor and construction management firm.

The car barn, with four bays and an epoxy-painted concrete floor to showcase the vehicles, will be a traditional design, with a single, 28-foot-long glulam girder to achieve a post-free opening to the shed bump at the rear of the building. Roof trusses on either end of the barn will have straight bottom chords, with three arched glulam bottom chords on the trusses in between, defining the vaulted space. The structure includes a central king post with decorative and structural steel reinforcement plate custom fabricated by Bob Taylor of Alstead, NH. A multi-purpose loft with ladder at one end of the structure will add useful square footage to the plan.classic car garage interior rendering

CAD DRAWING vintage auto barnTo integrate the architectural style of the barn with the main house, an eight-sided “lantern” cupola will be stick-built atop the barn by a local company to match the cupola on the main house. In addition to its unifying aesthetic, the copula will allow in natural light to illuminate the timber frame interior and future car collection. Dewson Construction will then finish the barn with a brick exterior to match the main house.

The classic car barn, currently in fabrication at our Blackjack Crossing facilities in Walpole, NH, is slotted for a September 15 raising, with the complete weather-tight shell installed within a week’s time.

Contemporary Polynesian Pool House on the Charles

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Photo by John Linden

A young couple with children asked Charles Rose Architects to design a “contemporary Polynesian hut” for their property southwest of Boston on the Charles River.

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The design called for indoor and outdoor sitting and dining areas; kitchenette; stainless steel outdoor shower; bath/changing area; 1,500 SF deck with in-ground hot tub; and a fire pit with built-in seating. The architect carved out one corner, creating a covered, but open and airy, outdoor lounging area.

Everyone agreed that the new pool house should be wood construction — primarily to match the look and feel of an earlier project the architects designed for the clients, a wood-clad “play barn” with two large rooms, divided by an outdoor space framing views of an adjacent pond. That’s where Bensonwood came in.

pool house interiors

Photo by John Linden

pool house timberframeOur timbered Douglas fir frame supports an asymmetric hip roof whose peak is pulled off-center so that the pool house subtly connects with the geometry of the existing play barn. Our timberframer C.J. Brehio was the job captain, and did a masterful job executing complex compound joinery. Custom concealed steel connections were also used throughout the building. Western red cedar lends rich, warm hues from exposed beams, custom doors and millwork.

complex compound joineryThe stainless steel shower structure was was a built by Alstead, NH welder and metal sculptor Bob Taylor and has a unique sand blasted finish and unique hardware such as flush mounted tapered screws and a big piano hinge for the door.

Other wood used includes: mahogany for the windows; ipe (pronounced “ee-pay,” aka Brazilian walnut); and bamboo. See more photos on our Houzz page here.​

charles river pool house

Photo by John Linden

Aquatic Dreamhouse Required Fluid Construction Strategies

Pool-Centric Vision Posed Technical Challenges

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Faced with a significant technical challenge, Alfandre Architecture, PC and its construction company, EcoBuilders Inc., teamed up with Bensonwood to fabricate and install the large-span glulam timbers and insulated shell of this spectacular 6,000 SF timbered dream house — all built around a large 2,000 SF indoor pool — for their client, a retired couple in Putnam County, NY.

pool house living areaThe challenges included engineering the long timber spans of the pool room, humidity control and the sensitivity of the rocky build site, to name a few. Here, Bensonwood’s expertise in timber engineering, off-site fabrication of panelized assemblies and rapid on-site installation was instrumental in realizing the ambitious project with minimal disruption to the ecology of the home site.

The house, recessed into the bedrock of its 15-acre site, was designed by architect Rick Alfandre to complement its natural setting, with the pool room both anchoring the design and providing the homeowners with the physical, social and emotional benefits of their daily one-hour swim. To add to the ambiance, the light-drenched, four-bedroom, five-bath home has over 70 triple-glazed windows to draw the surrounding landscape into its interior.

pool in upstate ny dream houseGC and local construction company, EcoBuilders Inc. (owned and operated by Rick Alfandre) completed the foundation and walkout walls, first floor system, infill, window installation, mechanical systems, and finishes.

From this project, Bensonwood went on to contribute the timberframe and roof panels for Alfandre Architecture’s offices across the Hudson River in New Paltz, NY, for which Alfandre is seeking LEED Gold certification.

For more photos, visit our Houzz Page.

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 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

cape cod pool house

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.