University of Minnesota chooses Accoya® for its Tashjian Bee Pollinator Center

11 May 17

Building Type: Institutional/University
Completed: August 2016
Architect: MSR Design
Manufactured by: Delta Millworks

Hundreds of native bee species in North America are in jeopardy of extinction according to several scientific studies. It is stated that, out of roughly 4,000 species, more than 700 are at risk due to loss of habitat, pesticide use, climate change, disease, and urbanization.

This decline has made headline news for several years and comes at a human cost: our food source. Bees are hardworking animals and a large amount of pollen is facilitated by bees including some of our most nutritious crops, like fruits and vegetables, to the tune of three billion dollars annually.

Conservation efforts are underway to help solve the decline of native bee species (colony collapse) and to understand how the causes impact bee populations. One of the leading scientists behind the study of bees is Dr. Marla Spivak, a MacArthur Fellow and McKnight Distinguished Professor in Entomology at the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota’s newly constructed Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center at The Minnesota Landscaped Arboretum is coupling bee research, led by Dr. Spivak, with hands-on learning for the public. The 7,530-square foot center, the first building in a master planned farm to table campus, combines educational programming and public outreach into one thoughtful structure.

Part of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota, the arboretum also features more than 1200 acres of gardens, model landscapes, woodlands and wetlands, and can be toured via the 12 miles of paths and hiking trails or the “Three-Mile Drive.”

The center was completed in August 2016 in an undeveloped southeast corner of the arboretum and centered around a beautiful old Midwestern style red barn original to the land. Back in the day, material choices weren’t necessarily made for aesthetics, but because they were locally available. Wood was the primary material used for barn construction.

“We examined the origins and how we could take cues from the existing farmstead and modernize them,” said Chris Wingate, LEED AP and associate at MSR Design in Minneapolis. “The materials we find beautiful in barns across the country were originally chosen because they were natural, durable, practical, and available.”

The university was interested in creating an architectural language that spoke to the idea of farmstead, but didn’t directly recreate the barn structure. When it came to material choices for the center, MSR Design looked at local availability, durability, and meeting standards for sourcing and sustainability. The design team started looking into thermally modified wood and ended the search by choosing Accoya wood. “Using a modernized wood product was a priority from a sustainability aspect,” said Wingate.

All of the exterior cladding is Accoya wood, both charred and stained. The charred Accoya wood was completed by Delta Millworks out of Austin, Texas, which Wingate attributed to a “happy accident” that it all came together. The design team wanted to use Accoya wood and had reached out to Delta Millworks to see if they could char it as part of the exterior cladding. At that time, Delta Millworks had just started working with Accoya wood and obliged, adding that it is now its preferred charred wood due to its even char finish.

The slab is concrete, doubling as a heating and cooling system, and the roof is covered with galvanized aluminum, which references the barn next door – very simple. With the addition of structural insulated panels (SIPs), the center is thermally efficient.

The interior of the building continues with a wood theme including glulam beams, wall panels are clad with plywood, and perforated acoustical ceiling panels. The inside of the center glows in a manner reminiscent of honey or warmth.

In addition to the conceptual connection to farmsteads, all projects constructed at the University of Minnesota come with a mandatory sustainability overlay, almost a more aggressive LEED process. “We needed to pick natural materials. In our search, we came across and fell in love with the technical literature and beauty of Accoya,” noted Wingate.

As research continues to focus on the native bee decline or colony collapse, it is important to note that Accoya uses a natural process that could potentially avoid the pitfalls of other treated wood options.

Accoya wood is manufactured using Accsys Technologies’ proprietary acetylation process to create the nontoxic high performance wood product. The modification process chemically alters the wood’s free hydroxyls into stable acetyl groups. Acetyl groups are naturally present in all wood species, which means that nothing toxic is added. The altered cell structure of the wood makes it an unrecognizable food source for insects and prevents fungal decay.

Accoya wood boasts a 50-year above ground and 25-year below ground warranty and swelling and shrinkage are reduced by 75 percent or more. The material is sourced from FSC-certified forests and is also Cradle to Cradle Gold certified and is a healthy materials standard for Google’s Portico.

*Sources: Pollinators in Peril, A systematic review of North American and Hawaiian native bees, by Kelsey Kopec, Center for Biological Diversity, The Plight of the Bees, Environmental Science & Technology Feature, by Dr. Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota.