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Steel Shots: Sustainability Treehouse
Posted by Tasha Weiss on August 19, 2013 at 1:00 PM.

Towering 125 ft above grade, the Sustainability Treehouse at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia is supported by a COR-TEN steel frame — shown in the above photo taken last fall after the two highest elevation mainframes were erected — engineered by Tipping Mar and fabricated by SteelFab (an AISC member and AISC certified fabricator/advanced certified erector), creating a seamless fusion of architecture and structural engineering. Completed last month, visitors can ascend multiple indoor and outdoor platforms and experience the forest of the Summit Bechtel Reserve from many vantages, from the forest floor to the canopy and sky above. Click on the photo to view a completed shot of the project. Photos: Photo of steel framing courtesy of SteelFab; completed photo property of Trinity Works, LLC


Last month, more than 40,000 Scouts and Scouters visited the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia for its inaugural event: the 2013 National Boy Scout Jamboree. Making its debut at this national event was the Sustainability Treehouse, a 6,000-sq.-ft facility that embodies the Summit Bechtel Reserve’s site-wide goal of sustainable design, infrastructure and construction practices.


The interactive learning facility is targeting the Living Building Challenge, a green building certification program that requires the Treehouse to produce and manage all of its own energy, water and waste on site.


The Treehouse was designed to harvest its own energy through grid-connected cogeneration using photovoltaic, wind turbines and Fuel Cells. Some of its other sustainable attributes include: an HVAC system that includes radiant cooling/heating with displacement ventilation air supply, as well as geothermal wells with ground coupled heat pumps which generate chilled and hot water; energy recovery and desiccant dehumidification strategies used to reduce ventilation cooling loads; rainwater is captured, treated and used as a grey-water system for public restrooms; composting toilets provided for several buildings and solar hot water; low level lighting with very efficient fluorescent or LED sources.


Themed exhibits, designed by Volume Inc, span over five floors and include mechanical interactives, LED signage, phenolic and hand-painted graphics and specimen cases. For example, engaging visitors on the second level is a “Rube Goldberg” inspired kinetic ball sculpture which symbolically illustrates energy and water conservation along with the recycling and reuse of materials. Visitors use three methods to activate the balls; by peddling a bike, pumping a water pump and rotating a hand wheel, brightly colored balls start moving and trigger video screens, light boxes, electrical fans, lamps and a growing mechanical flower.


Trinity Works, LLC served as master developer for the Summit Bechtel Reserve and the Sustainability Treehouse. The design process for the Treehouse, led by Mithun, consisted of several intensive charette sessions interspersed with focused distillation and production efforts to coalesce ideas and integrate systems. BNIM undertook construction documentation and management, working with Swope Construction to implement the vision for this extraordinary facility.


Videos are available for a better look at the building’s design, and an explanation on how the Sustainability Treehouse works.

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