Boy Scouts of America Sustainability Treehouse Exhibition Program
The Boy Scouts of America and Trinity Works commissioned Volume to design an exhibition program around sustainability principles. The Sustainability “Treehouse”, designed by Mithun, is a Net Zero structure that meets the standards of the Living Building Challenge: it is solar and wind-powered, all necessary water is rain-captured, and all waste is recycled and reused. It is part of the Summit, located on former strip mining land and converted into a nature preserve that will permanently host the BSA’s Jamboree gatherings, held every four years and bring over 30,000 scouts to the site.
The Boy Scouts, through their nature-based activities and larger mission, have always been agents of sustainability. This project was part of a larger initiative to amplify this facet of scouting to both help the BSA remain relevant and affect change. The project’s main goal was to educate Scouts on sustainability and provide them tools to enact the practice in their everyday lives.
Our main challenge was to create an experience that would engage Boy Scouts eager to find the next cool adventure activity at the Summit†zip lines, climbing areas, a skate park†and leave them with a new perspective on sustainability. Nature’s natural processes inform the exhibit program which then translates these principles to the everyday living in one’s own house. The design avoids outdated and formulaic exhibit solutions and, instead, delivers information in surprising and unexpected ways, down to the humorous and slightly irreverent tone of the exhibit text. The exhibit program also follows the Living Building Challenge principles in its manufacturing and assembly. (See Detailed Summary for specifics.)
This project is situated in a place and for an audience (and client) rarely addressed by the “high design” that the design establishment (and most competitions) celebrates. Hundreds of thousands of scouts from a wide variety of backgrounds and locales around the world will visit this exhibition and bring these sustainability principles back to their schools and family homes. Recent controversies aside, the Boy Scouts membership base is so diverse that it provides an ideal launch pad for these sustainability tools that transcends the usual political divides. Doubly effective in that the agents here are young people, less prone to calcified opinions and worldviews.
This project does not directly sell a product in the marketplace per se, but it has potentially indirect ramifications in that its audience will be bringing the sustainability tools presented here back to their homes, their schools, and the marketplace†both in terms of their consumption habits and, later, as adults in the workplace. Also, by meeting the Living Building Challenge, the building and exhibition program provides a concrete sustainable model for architects, designers, and builders to use in their own projects, commercial or otherwise.
Finally, the highway currently divides two of the most culturally vibrant areas in town (the Arts District and As discussed in the People section, the Boy Scouts organization is a hub for people of very disparate backgrounds and upbringings. This leveling the shared scouting experience not only provides an ideal venue to promote the exhibit program’s sustainability principles that affect everyone on the planet, but a venue that allows for the sharing and discussion of them. There will be, at times, over 30,000 scouts from around the world gathered together at the Summit site.
The exhibition program uses tactile, low-tech interaction that encourages collaboration, motivating visitors to incorporate these Net Zero practices into their own lives and communities for the betterment of the planet.
—A “Rain Chain,” made of stainless steel camping cups, transfers rainwater falling from the roof into a cistern below. The cistern cleans and purifies the water for the building’s use. A drinking fountain adjacent to an LED message board displays how much has been collected and consumed.
—A complete tree and root ball (taken from the site), which_along with a variety of specimens, videos and other content_illustrates its own self-sufficiency in nature and also provides the model for how the building works.
—The “Recyclotron,” a Rube Goldberg-esque rolling ball machine encased in a repurposed wood “mini-house” representing a sustainable building running in perfect harmony. Visitors power the machine through a variety of means, most memorably by pedaling a custom-design tricycle that both lifts the balls to the top of the track and gives the rider a sense of how much more effort is needed to power an incandescent bulb versus fluorescent or LEDs.
—Tales of a Deep Green Scout: A short Moonrise Kingdom-meets-An Inconvenient Truth film that plays across three large monitors in the Treehouse theater.
—Both the Spin-O-Pledge wheel and typographic mural give Scouts tips on how to be more sustainable in their everyday lives.
—Scouts can etch a personal sustainability commitment pledge onto a dog tag and attach it to the series of vertical wires installed on the roof.
The Sustainability Treehouse was deemed a “smashing hit” at the 10-day Jamboree gathering of Scouts. During that period, more than 23,000 visitors came through the space. After they visited, 2600 Scouts completed a digital survey. On a 1 to 5 scale, the experience scored 4.55 on all fronts. Handwritten responses included: “Magical,” “Fantastic” and “Lots of fun.”