Wood and Indoor Environment

Creating beneficial spaces for living, working, well-being
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Vashon Island High School

Closer to home, the new Vashon Island High School (VHS) in Washington State reflects the island community's values and desires to promote thoughtful stewardship of natural resources. Community members helped define goals for the project, including minimizing carbon footprint, ensuring protection of two adjoining watersheds, and reducing both embodied energy and energy consumed during the building's operation. Designed by Integrus Architects, the building itself serves as a living textbook by integrating sustainable lessons and mindset into daily school life, helping to teach students to care for the environment they're inheriting.

The project goals presented the design team with a complex challenge: to create a modern school facility in alignment with current high-performance educational programs that also serves as a vital hub for the community, and to respond in a meaningful way to the island's unique culture, traditions, and commitment to sustainability. The unique building form and the place-based material palette sought to bring these elements together. The incorporation of wood throughout and extensive daylighting were key to the strong indoor-outdoor connection desired by the community. Large roof overhangs provide extensive outdoor shelter in inclement weather. Shed roofs and clapboard siding give a nod to the Island's agrarian vernacular, while the exposed wood structure and expansive glazing ground the building in a modernist tradition appropriate for its place and time. The building is painted a deeply saturated red, providing an appropriate image of the little red schoolhouse in a close knit community, and complementing the deep green hues of the surrounding forest.

Forested land adjacent to the high school and owned by the school district is sustainably managed by the Vashon Island Forest Stewards Council. A forest stewardship project completed by the Council with support from VHS students showed that parts of the 50-acre woods should be thinned and that some trees were at risk of falling. Wood from the forest—including Douglas fir, madrone, maple and alder—was sustainably harvested and milled on island, and appears extensively in the school as stair treads, wainscot and finish trim. Wood finishes and columns were required to have low volatile organic compounds to promote healthful air quality.

Carby Chapel Center

The natural environment was consciously integrated into the design of the Carby Chapel Center near Houston, Texas, through the use of different wood species and a blend of native limestone. Designed and constructed by Roesler Associates, Inc./Architects, it is used for adult retreats and conferences as well as summer camps for children. It functions as a multipurpose chapel and conference center, and also features classrooms and spaces for other camp programs.

Wood used in the chapel was stained and sealed to enhance its natural beauty and provide contrast and visual interest. Custom wood trusses, interior woodwork and trim are Douglas-fir. The exposed structural roof deck is Southern Yellow Pine. The custom designed and built cross, altar, lectern, baptismal font, stair rail, banister, and double entry doors were all made of cedar milled from trees grown on the site.

According to Matt Roesler, AIA, wood was chosen for the interior and exterior because of its aesthetic value, although its acoustic value and natural sound absorption were also important. The orientation of the building and use of extensive daylighting enhance the natural beauty of interior finishes and provide spectacular natural displays at dawn and dusk. “Musicians in string quartets performing at weddings have said the natural acoustics provided by the wood finishes as well as the baffle effect of the open wood trusses are perfect for wood stringed instruments.”


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in June 2013