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.