Insect Infestation as Green Architecture Tool


Photo by James Haefner

So what do you get when you add an invasive bug that kills millions of trees to a heavily wooded area? If you're the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), you use the situation as an opportunity to build a world-class green building that takes using local materials to a whole-new-level.Back in 2005, AADL bought a 4-acre site to construct the Traverwood Branch - a new branch library to serve the Northeast quadrant of the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was needed to replace an existing facility located in a strip mall along a nearby commercial corridor.

Ash Trees and Bugs
During the early stages of the design process, it was discovered that a large amount of the Ash trees present on site were infected by the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). The EAB, or Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, is a dirty little beetle that was found in southeastern Michigan about three years before the Traverwood project began. These pesky buggers love nibbling on Ash foliage and find the inner bark an ideal location to lay eggs. Though the mature critters do no real harm, the larvae feed on the soft parts of the tree's tissue effectively disrupting the water flow and killing the woody plant over a period of 3 to 5 years.


Photo from David Cappaert

EAB are assumed to have arrived in the United States in packing crates originating from Asia. After they landed in the Midwest they aggressively attacked Ash trees from Michigan to New York to Ontario to Virginia killing millions in their wake. The fact that the AADL's site was infected wasn't exactly part of the plan for why they purchased the acreage. Their idea was to preserve all but a small area in the southwest corner where the building would be built. Once the branch was completed, visitors would have a natural landscape to stare off at during their explorations into literature and studying. That, of course, was the plan before the team found out that most of the Ash trees on the property would have to be removed because of the annoying alien invader.

Close for Comfort
Green builders are always going on and on about using local materials the LEED rating system defines "local" as within 500 miles of a given project location. Usually the types of local products used are so processed they don't look anything like they did before they were harvested. inFORM studio, the design architects for Traverwood, wanted to be as innovative as possible with regard to a sustainable approach. And as Michael Guthrie, the Design Director for inFORM studio puts it, "As far as sustainable goes, we didn't try to meet criteria, we just tried to do the best we could."


Photo by Justin Maconochie

And the best they could do was far and beyond any standard available in architecture today. All the building materials came from within Michigan and all wood products were harvested within 25 miles of the project site. This goal made the presence of the EAB a positive, because where it was wrecking havoc in other places, the trees needing to be removed were ideal for accomplishing green goals the team had set. Only one problem, how would they make it happen?


Photo by James Haefner
The How-To is in the Work
Enter John Yarema of Yarema Creative Hardwood Floors — it was only by accident Guthrie met Yarema. Yarema had come to the inFORM studio office looking for high-end residential flooring. People had told him Guthrie did "really cool stuff". The two began talking about the library project, and the rest is, well, not history at all it would take another month of convincing by Guthrie to get Yarema to agree to do the project. And Guthrie wasn't wanting to do simple straight lines with the Ash, so it would take both nerve and determination to complete the project.


Photos by Michael Guthrie

The result — the Traverwood Branch is rooted in the community by way of its architecture. They were able to reuse the Ash for flooring, wall paneling, furniture and structural members. Some of the trees are still fundamentally the same as when they were in the ground. Yarema dove into the project so deeply that he found century old white oak timbers in barns from neighboring towns to use for the project. Not only that, the team removed the Ash trees in an innovative and old, old school method — by using horses to pull the trees out of the wooded area so not to disrupt other healthy trees.


Photo by Justin Maconochie

The new branch opened in 2008 and it is a testament to how green design can be coupled with local knowledge to achieve being ground-breaking and earth-friendly. It's, also, a reminder that what was pioneering yesterday in green building needs to continue to be authentic to avoid becomes merely the status quo.

Tags: Architects | Architecture | Buildings | Green Building | Insects | Recycled Building Materials | Waste

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