Into the Woods

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					ARCHITECTURE > CULTURE > DESIGN                       by                            Client

January 2008                                          Fred                          Debbi
                                                      Moody                         Brainerd



Into                                          1
                                                                                    Photographs by
                                                                                    Lara
                                                                                    Swimmer

the
Woods                             2

                                                              IGNEOUS CHIMNEY
                                                              1. DIORITE
                                                              2. GRANITE
                                                              3. GABBRO
                                                              4. COLUMNAR BASALT SEATS




                                                  3




                                          4




                                      1
                                                                            An environmental learning center—nestled into
 Architect                                                                  a rustic 250-acre nature preserve—plays a dual
 Mithun                                                                     role as symbol and teaching tool.




Above: The greenhouse, or Living
Machine, also serves as a waste-water-                                                 ISLAND WOOD
                                                                                       BAINBRIDGE ISLAND,
treatment facility. Water for toilets or
                                                                                       WASHINGTON
irrigation is filtered, oxygenated, and
processed by plants.




On previous page: Each of the common
rooms in Island Wood’s three lodges is
focused around a stone chimney made
wholly from one type of rock: igneous
(shown), metamorphic, or sedimentary.      I’m walking with ten fourth-graders around Island Wood, a six-acre environmen-
It’s one of many examples on the cam-      tal learning-center campus built carefully, almost apologetically, into a 255-acre nature
pus of educational tools embedded into     preserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington. At the moment we’re in the “educational
the architecture.                          studios” building, which is replete with green features designed both to demonstrate
                                           architectural environmentalism and to elicit kids’ questions and interest. A little girl
                                           emerges from the restroom, which has composting toilets, and says to her friend:
                                                                2                                                METROPOLIS January 2008
    “Go in there and sit down!”
    “Why?”
    “Because this funny air comes up and hits your butt—it’s really weird!”
    And there you have what Island Wood’s director of education, Pat Guild
  O’Rourke, likes to call “the experiential approach to education that we want to
  employ here.” Given the age of Island Wood’s clients—9, 10, and 11—demonstra-
  tions of environmentalism that catch you by surprise are a tad more effective
  than lectures or classroom sessions. “We don’t preach at them about some of




“We don’t preach at them about
the architecture,” Pat Guild                                          KEY BUILDINGS
O’Rourke says of the experiential
approach. “We just make it obvi-
ous so they’ll ask questions.”                                 A.   Grad commons
                                                               B.   Graduate student area
                                                               C.   Tree house
    A      B                                                   D.   Maintenance/greenhouse
                                                               E.   Dining hall
                                                               F.   Main center
                                                               G.   Learning studios
                                    C                          H.   Art studio
                                                               I.   Bird’s nest lodge
                                                               J.   Guest cottage
                                                               K.   Mammal’s den
                                                               L.   Invertebrate inn

              D

              E




          F       G      H      I

                                J

                                K                                                                     the sophisticated architecture—we just make it
                                                                                                      obvious so they’ll ask questions,” she adds.
                                L                                                                       It’s clear that the kids are unenthusiastic, even
                                                                                                      fearful, at the prospect of going into detail about the
                                                                                                      composting toilets. When a group of them is led
                                                                                                      down an outdoor staircase to see the composting
                                                                                                                                                                Map, courtesy Mithun



                                                                                                      operation beneath the restroom, they move hesi-
                                                                                                      tantly, several of them holding their noses. But the
                                                                                                      room is pristine and odor-free, even when the
                                                                                                      instructor raises the lid on the compost bin to reveal
                      Above: Before plotting the campus,                                              what looks like dark, dry sawdust.
                      the architects ran a detailed analysis                                            “No, no, no way! Impossible! I don’t believe you!”
                      to determine the least eco-sensitive     Above right: The lodges’ bunk beds       “Can you two go upstairs and throw some
                      areas, considering factors such as       are made out of wood salvaged from     wadded-up paper down the toilet so he can see?”
                      slope, soil suitability, and logging     construction sites, and the radiant      And so goes the raising of environmental
                      history. The area where most of          floors are heated with water tubes.    consciousness, one child at a time.
                      the buildings are located had been       “It’s a shoes-off environment,” says
                      logged as recently as the 1970s.         Mithun’s David Goldberg.

  METROPOLIS January 2008                                                         3
                    LODGE



                 Each of the campus’s three lodges holds about 30 stu-
                 dents, plus chaperones—a full classroom’s worth. The
                 lodges are all centered around an educational theme
                 reflected in their names: Bird’s Nest Lodge, Invertebrate
                 Inn, and Mammal’s Den.



                   Island Wood was first dreamed up in 1997, when
                 Seattle’s Debbi Brainerd started thinking about
                 how to address two apparently unrelated prob-
                 lems: environmental degradation and shortfalls in
                 inner-city education. In 1998 she and her hus-
                 band, Paul, purchased a parcel of undeveloped
                 land on Bainbridge—a 35-minute ferry ride from
                 Seattle—and started planning to make spectacu-
                 lar, harmless use of their acquisition.
                   The land, previously owned by the Port Blakely
                 Tree Farms, was logged in the nineteenth century, is
                 now covered with second-growth forest, and
                 features—among other natural wonders—a pond, a

                 The bird blind is located in Cattail Marsh, north of the
                 main cluster of buildings. The simple octagonal plywood
                 frame is slit with openings (set at different heights for
                 kids of different ages) looking onto the marsh.



BIRD BLIND




             4                                       METROPOLIS January 2008
   FRIENDSHIP
   CIRCLE
                                                                                         The Friendship Circle provides a sheltered outdoor gather-
                                                                                         ing space for educational programs and campfires. The
                                                                                         red-cedar logs were selectively harvested locally.

   bog, a marsh, an estuary, a
   deep ravine, and a harbor. The
   Brainerds started planning to
   build there; Debbi spent the
   next two years consulting with
   experts before beginning Island
   Wood’s two-year construction
   project. Now in its sixth year of
   operation, the learning center is
   as close to invisible as you can
   make a six-acre, 18-building
   campus, along with various
   other structures (tree houses, a
   bird blind, a helter, a green-
   house, a suspension footbridge) out in the woods. Some of the
   buildings are situated to hide them from one another, and all of the
   buildings are made of materials that so closely match the hues of
   their natural surroundings that they serve as camouflage.
     Island Wood brings in children and teachers from inner-city
   schools and hosts them for the better part of a week, giving them intense, hands-on outdoor science
   education and indoor exposure to “green” architecture. Island Wood was Washington State’s first
   LEED Gold project, and the buildings’ interiors look, at first blush, decidedly odd to city kids. Their
   walls are all glass and unadorned wood; so natural is this interior that there are rooms where you do
   a double-take, trying to distinguish the room you’re in from the outdoors viewed through the window.
                                                                          In some places patterns on a
                                                                          wall made from recycled wood
The buildings are a meta-environment:                                     chips and chunks match the
they’re not only sustainable, they’re about                               riotous random pattern of the
                                                                          ferns, salal, tree trunks, and          The Floating Classroom was suggested by
being sustainable. There doesn’t seem to be                               forest-floor detritus visible            a child at a charrette. An underwater pulley
any element to the architecture that isn’t                                                                        system operated by onboard hand cranks
making a statement about itself.                                                          continued on page 7     carries small groups across Mac’s Pond to
                                                                                                                  take samples for a watershed-quality course.

                                                      Summer
                                                        sun



                                                                                                                Photovoltaics:
                                                                                                                 25 cm array
                                                  Passive-
                                                solar heating
The south side of the Learning
Studio’s butterfly roof is precisely                                       PV-powered
angled to capture the winter-          Winter            Natural           exhaust fan
                                        sun             ventilation
solstice sun. PV cells cover the
longer northern side, and in                                                                                                     Natural            Natural
                                                                                                                                 daylight          ventilation
the center, water for irrigation
is captured in a cistern.



                                                         Composting     Natural
                     Rainwater                            toilet bins
                     collection                                         daylight               Radiant-floor
                                                                                                 heating




     METROPOLIS January 2008                                                 5
   TREE
   HOUSE

From the tree house’s vantage point,
otherwise hidden features of the bog
below—stunted hemlock trees, clus-
tered wild roses, sharp-shinned
hawks—come into view. The tree will
survive for 50 years with the struc-
ture bolted and collared to it.




                                       6   METROPOLIS January 2008
INTO THE WOODS
continued from page 5



outside. A given piece of furniture—crafted      “Mithun was so excited about involving kids,”
out of a log or featuring spindles made from     Brainerd says, “that I just thought, ‘This is the team
unfinished tree branches—looks more or
less like the tree parts outside, just a few     I need to work with.’”
feet away.                                       Wood employs graduate students as instruc-         Children come into the lodges at the end of
  “Is that real? It’s plastic, right?”           tors and teaches graduate-level classes on       the day and run to their rooms as if they’ve
  “We really tried to make the learning          environmentalism] who come primarily             been living there for months. Then they
something kids experience,” O’Rourke says.       because they can’t believe all the sustain-      spend their time before dinner running up
“We try to model for the kids. It’s great fun    able elements we have in one place here.”        and down the hallways, sliding in their
when they are surprised by something.”           Among these elements is everything from          socks—the floors, which are mostly a mix of
  “How come all the windows are on one           photovoltaic roof panels to a rainwater-cap-     concrete and fly ash, are ideally slippery and
side?”                                           ture apparatus and a greenhouse, called the      sliver-free. “They love the bunk beds,” she
  “Someone asked Dr. Seuss one time,             Living Machine, packed with plants that          adds, “and they really like the ‘Great Room,’
‘Why do you write about things that are out      filter Island Wood’s gray water for reuse.        with the fireplace and the couch and every-
of whack?’ ” says Clancy Wolf, Island               Mithun design principal Elizabeth             thing. Sometimes at night, when kids would
Wood’s technology coordinator. “And that’s       MacPherson credits the environmentalism to       feel a little homesick, they’d come out there
one of the really neat things about these        “Debbi’s vision.” Brainerd says that Mithun      and cuddle up on the couch and listen to
buildings: they’re in a sense out of whack.      “presented this idea to me, and it made so       stories or just sit there with you by the
So when something doesn’t sit right with         much sense—that there was an opportunity         fireplace.” (Each of Island Wood’s five
the way kids are used to, they’re going to       here far beyond what I ever imagined in the      fireplaces, MacPherson points out, “repre-
check their assumptions.”                        beginning to design this notion of sustain-      sents a different time period in the geologic
  “How come the roof ’s upside down?”            able visual elements in all aspects of the       history of the Cascade Mountains”—another
  “Like when kids get outside and look back      campus.” She was concerned at first about         story there for the telling.)
here,” Wolf continues, “they see this butterfly   the high costs, “but we determined that we         “There’s not a lot of other stuff here—we
roof instead of a normal one with the peak in    could integrate all of the green pieces we       can’t watch TV, we can’t play any video
the middle. One side of the roof is designed     wanted by taking out things that you would       games.”
to have solar gain, and we want high windows     find in a traditional building to offset the        “But we’re still having fun.”
facing south so we can get passive solar heat,   price. In the end our cost per square foot was     “The center,” Brainerd says, “is primarily
and the roof butterflies there so we can cap-     $194, compared to schools being built here       for inner-city kids who don’t have an oppor-
ture the water right down the middle, pour it    at the same time, which were around $235         tunity to connect with the natural world.
into that cistern. Kids see that kind of stuff   per square foot. So our cost was really low,     And when kids are uncomfortable, they’re
and ask about it.”                               and most of that was just trade-off: if you      not open to learning. So we wanted them to
  Island Wood’s architecture, then, is           walk around our buildings, especially if         be as comfortable here as possible.”
didactic. Mithun project lead David              you’re in these big areas, we don’t have any       To that end she set about making sure that
Goldberg calls the structures “a textbook.”      lowered ceilings or paint…we’ve left things      kids were foremost in everyone’s mind from
The buildings are a meta-environment:            sort of raw. And we have radiant-floor heat,      the beginning. When choosing an architect,
they’re not only sustainable, they’re about      which will save us money in the long run.”       the make-or-break interview question turned
being sustainable. There doesn’t seem to            “Hey, the floor’s warm!”                       out to be, “How do you see involving chil-
be any element to the architecture that             The effect is not austere: the buildings      dren in the design process?” The answer of
isn’t making a statement about itself.           have a comfortable feel that seems deliber-      one finalist was a “pregnant pause,”
  Island Wood’s Welcome Center_a large,          ately designed rather than settled for. “When    Brainerd recalls. “But at Mithun there was
spacious room—features a 97-foot beam,           I went to interior-design school,” MacPherson    this fellow [David Goldberg] who practically
hewn from old-growth timber 150 years            says, “it was a lot about layers and layers      jumped across the table and said, ‘Oh, gosh,
ago by the old mill, suspended from the          and layers of stuff. That somehow made for       we’ll go into the classroom, do design char-
ceiling in tandem with a replica of one of       lovely places, but what we’re finding is that     rettes, we’ll take in things they can build
the mill’s massive saw blades. The eye-          the more closely we can tie our environment      models with!’ He was so excited about get-
catching display is designed to deliver a        to nature, the more comfortable we feel. So      ting kids involved in the design process that
history lesson. You watch shoeless fourth-       if we’re able to expose and show how some-       I just thought, ‘This is the team I need to
graders sliding giddily across the concrete      thing is built—just show what it’s made of       work with.’”
floor in their socks under this arrange-          and its function—why not?”                         Joining forces with Julie Johnson, an
ment and you’re reminded of children’s              “A lot of the sustainable stuff,” says        associate professor at the University
stories for adults: the genre that appeals       Claire Colegrove, an intern camp instruc-        of Washington’s department of land-
to kids while offering a deeper message          tor at Island Wood last summer, “is over         scape architecture, Brainerd and
accessible only to their elders.                 the kids’ heads. But they love the lodges,       Goldberg ran design charrettes with
  “Every year,” O’Rourke says, “we have at       and especially”—she sighs in exaspera-           some 250 fourth-, fifth-,
least two or three graduate students [Island     tion—“the slippy floors.”                         and sixth-graders over
METROPOLIS January 2008                                                7
    INTO THE WOODS


six months. The kids built models,              one wall of each room to accommodate               shower and a place to hang your things,
answered questions, and drew ideal spac-        larger groups.) Off of every room is a toilet-     hooks on the wall to hang your clothes.”
es. “A lot of what they came up with you        sink-shower arrangement with the sink in             The guests at Island Wood are invariably
would think was obvious,” Brainerd says.        the middle and the toilet and shower on            appreciative. Particularly moving for
“But there were other ideas that I probably     either side, each in its own little room with      Colegrove was the week she spent with a
never would have guessed. One kid said to       a door. (The showerhead is installed at            group of children from Seattle’s Atlantic
me, ‘I don’t want to wake up and see the        kid’s height—sternum level for an adult.)          Street Center, a facility for poor and
other buildings.’ What they were showing us       “I had two little girls come up to me at the     otherwise disadvantaged children. A donor
in their drawings were these little windows     end of a charrette,” Brainerd says, “and they      had arranged for all the kids to be outfitted
in their bunk rooms. They wanted to see the     whispered, ‘You know, we never took a              with new outdoor clothing and given a week
trees from their bed. The other piece we        shower the whole week we were away at              at Island Wood. “They’d never been in the
gleaned from this was that the lodges should    camp.’ And when I asked them why, they sort        woods before,” Colegrove recalls. “They
not be built where the other buildings on the   of looked at each other, embarrassed, and          freaked out at first. It was so hard for them,
campus were. So that’s why they’re out in       then one of them said, ‘We didn’t want any-        being outdoors. So the coziness and comfort
the woods.”                                     one to see us without our clothes on.’ So I        in the lodges was really important.”
  The lodges do indeed look like a kid’s        asked them, ‘Well, how could we design               “This is like staying in a hotel!”
fantasy—imagine Disneyland designed by          some showers that we could use so you would          In the final analysis the best line on Island
Davy Crockett. Each room has two sets of        like to come to camp again?’ And they gave         Wood is delivered by carpenter and wood-
bunk beds, each bed with an LED night-          me a drawing that showed me a layout for a         worker Floyd Luke, a longtime islander who
light inset in the wall beside it and a small   shower room. It was just a very simple situa-      helped build one of the center’s tree houses. “If
square window in the wall over the pillow       tion—you saw the results—where you had a           God had money,” he says, “this is how He
looking outside. (There is a Murphy bed in      door that you could close and a bench and a
                                                                                                                       °
                                                                                                   would’ve spent it.” www.metropolismag.com




             Pier 56, 1201 Alaskan Way, Suite 200                                             4450 Blakely Avenue NE
                       Seattle, WA 98101                                                  Bainbridge Island, WA 98110-2257
                         206.623.3344                                                               206.855.4300
                        www.mithun.com                                                           www.islandwood.org




           Reprinted with permission from Metropolis, February 2008 by The Reprint Dept., 1-800-259-0470; 10688-0607. (10923-0308).
                                                 For web posting only. Bulk printing prohibited.

				
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