From Diana Budds
In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America made conservation a stronger focus of the organization by introducing a new sustainability merit badge and opening an educational center in the 10,600-acre Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. Using the Living Building Challenge as a guide (a rigorous set of construction standards similar to LEED), Seattle-based architecture firm Mithun spearheaded a multidisciplinary team to create a tree house that would turn lessons into an adventure. Sited on a former coal mine, the building features a locally made prefabricated steel megastructure, FSC-certified black locust wood housing, a photovoltaic array, a wind turbine, and a rainwater catchment system. Visitors learn about energy and water conservation as they climb outdoor staircases that lead from the forest floor to the 125-foot-high rooftop rising above the leaf canopy. Brendan Connolly, a partner at Mithun, takes pride in the architectural promenade: “The experience of moving through the trees was more powerful than we imagined,” he says.