Friday, August 26, 2011

Art @ the Y Trivia: What does a Boyscout ‘Treehouse’ have to do with Astronauts?

Only Denny Anderson knew the answer to that question before he spoke at his Art @ the Y exhibition opening. If you're curious about why a treehouse has become an art exhibition, just wait until you come to the Y and see what he has built with the help of his troop and many volunteer. Simply stated, it’s a work of art.

The Treehouse, also called ‘Green 17’ after the troop that built it, is located at Camp Drake. It’s a four season, 15 bunk, 400 square foot piece of heaven. Quite literally, its green efficiency was can be equated to the earth itself. Every aspect of the treehouse’s construction was informed by the three things that sustain life in the face of cold space and the hot sun: Mass, Glass, and Insulation.

Answer: Mass, Glass, and Insulation

Day-to-night and seasonally, the Earth insulates life. Our atmosphere and the mass of the planet keep temperatures from changing as extremely as they do in space. For instance, Denny informed the crowd that astronauts are subject to temperatures changing between -200 degrees while hidden from the sun and +200 degrees in the light of the sun. Fortunately, the insulating qualities of the earth can be applied to spaceships... and houses!

Unfortunately, as Denny is quick to point out, we are practically divorced from our environment, especially in the way we construct houses. In ancient times, people knew that because things get coldest just before dawn, it’s best to have windows pointed not due south, but 15 degrees east toward the morning sun to take advantage of the first warmth from the rising sun.

“This isn’t PhD work,” Denny remarks, “this is the environment.”

The cabin he has built is so super-insulated that even in the dead of winter it doesn’t need a furnace.

When the home inspectors asked him, “What’s your heat source?” Denny replied, “Boys.”

Because his ceiling is R-100, walls are R-60, and floors are R-40 (three times the normal insulation installed in a house), only 1 BTU is needed to heat the entire place to a comfortable temperature. 15 boyscouts provide a good deal more than 1 BTU of heat.

“But what about in the summertime?” asked a member of the audience, “15 boys also produce a lot of heat when it’s hot out...”

Denny answered, “The easiest way to keep a building cool is not to let it get hot.”

He described the treehouse’s ventilation system, equipped with a radiant attic barrier, vented from top to bottom and cooled through ridge vents. The air conditioning system is also composed of screens and shade. One mature oak is equivalent to 10 tons of A/C and the structure is built solidly among and between tall trees. The best way to keep a place cool in the summer is to open it up at night and close it during the day. If it’s insulated properly, that’s the coolest way to be. In that way, Denny compares modern construction to motorboats, when really we should be building houses more like sailboats, as he has done.

How it was built

Serendipitously. And with great skill. And with a ton of eager volunteers.

At every turn, Denny encountered just what he was looking for at 90% off or donated by a vendor who said “I don’t really know why we kept this around, but you can have it,” and then handed over a well-insulated window or door that fit the cabin perfectly.

On the other hand, what Denny calls serendipity also appears to be shrewd and persistent sense for what local vendors can provide if you know what to ask for. He got a thousand dollar granite cooktop for free because it was cracked. He cut a hole in it, put in a cutting board, and now it’s ready to be a home for propane-powered boyscout cookstoves. But largely, Denny is incredibly grateful for the generosity of all those people who gave materials and discounts, helping to make the construction possible.

Apparently, it was a heck of a lot of fun to build too! Denny says, “Volunteers would call on a Thursday to see if they could help out over the weekend.” Scouting is supposed to be fun, “and you can’t even say ‘treehouse’ without having some fun.”

The skill of the construction and adaptability demonstrated in the use of assorted materials can really only be understood by visiting the cabin or coming by the Y to check out all the photos and materials we have on exhibition. It’s worth a trip.

“I see this as a live-in laboratory, not just for kids but for the adults who come in there.”
Denny laughs and tells us that “even the carmudgeons will say ‘Can I go out to the balcony?’”

The boys who go through the cabin for a week or a weekend come out with a totally different perspective on green building and having a lifestyle that works hand in hand with the environment around us. It’s wheelchair accessible from one side, so really anyone can experience what the treehouse has to offer, and should.

After all, as Denny says, “You get more education by living in it than reading about it.”

What next?

Denny wants other people to build treehouses that also become platforms for learning (and fun). He describes the possibilities, “My hope is that other individuals and units will get involved and do treehouses... I can see them doing a Mirror House that is impossible to find without directions, or an Ewok Village - there’s no limit.”

EXHIBITION OPEN UNTIL OCTOBER 5TH, 2011. M-F 9am-5pm . Murphy Gallery

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