Once every four years, the Boy Scouts of America holds what it calls the National Scout Jamboree, which, to the uninitiated, entails the convergence of about 45,000 scouts and former scouts for a 10-day experience in tents. Formerly held in Virginia, the organization moved its 2013 Jamboree west to a new 10,600-acre site in West Virginia, where the Boy Scouts of America is transforming an industrial tract, formerly subjected to logging and contour mining, into a wilderness retreat to host the Jamborees for the foreseeable future. The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, as it is called, must also serve smaller groups year round. As part of the site’s transformation, the Boy Scouts of America envisioned an educational center that would allow groups to meet and explore ideas of ecology and sustainability. To design this project, the organization turned to Seattle-based architecture firm Mithun, which came up with something decidedly Scout-like: a treehouse.
The project is meant to demonstrate contemporary sustainable engineering and design, so, in terms of energy performance, Mithun set its sights high, planning for Living Building certification, which means that the project needs to manage its energy, water, and waste entirely on site. So, a 6,450-watt photovoltaic array and two 4,000-watt wind turbines power the building, while a 1,000-gallon cistern harvests rainwater and a cleansing system treats waste.
Rather than array gallery spaces across a large horizontal footprint, the design team went vertical, making the layout more elevational and sectional than planar. Working with landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz—based in New York, San Francisco, and Charlottesville, Va.—Mithun and associate architect BNIM of Kansas City, Mo., inserted the project into a forested area, keeping its footprint minimal and allowing it to soar 125 feet skyward. What results is a towering set of interlocking volumes adding up to 3,360 square feet of interior space, plus abundant outdoor space in the form of terraces, exterior stairs, and landings. Not only did this allow the team to avoid occupying a large swath of forest, it also lifts visitors into the canopy, providing a series of unique spaces to discuss and learn about ecology. Because of the site’s industrial past, Mithun supported the treehouse, which features site-salvage oak and locally harvested black locust siding and decking, on a grove of Corten columns that reference past activities on the site, and lifted the structure off the forest floor to give it an uninterrupted ground plane.
Mithun designed massing and glazing as a way to render spaces the most energy efficient, shaded by tree cover during the hot summer months, but allowing in abundant light during the winter. All of the interior space can be fully, naturally illuminated during daylight hours. Rainfall is harvested and treated before being distributed to the lavatories and water fountains. The use of composting toilets mitigates domestic cold water demand, and wastewater is pumped to a centralized blackwater system. The building uses no potable water. The photovoltaics and wind turbines allows the building to produce more energy than it uses (69 percent less than the ASHRAE 90.1 baseline).
The first Jamboree in the new location took place shortly after the project opened in July, and the Boy Scouts of America report that the project worked well and was also effective as an educational building, calling it a “smashing hit.”
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BY THE NUMBERS
Project completion date: July 2013
Building gross floor area: 3,357 square feet
Estimated percent of occupants using public transit, cycling, or walking: 100
Daylighting at levels that allow lights to be off during daylight hours: 100
Lighting power density (watts per square foot): 0.75
Percent of views to the outdoors: 100
Percent of spaces within 15 feet of an operable window: 77
Percent reduction of regulated potable water: 100
Potable water used for irrigation: No.
Percent of rainwater from maximum anticipated 24-hour, two-year storm event that can be managed on site: 100
Total EUI (kBtu per square foot per year): 15
Net EUI (kBtu per square foot per year): -1
Percent reduction from national median EUI for building type: 85
Third-party rating: Living Building Certification
Total project cost as time of completion (land excluded): $7.7 million