Roald Gundersun, the founder of Whole Trees Architecture & Structures, is one of the most innovative architects working today. The Stoddard, Wisconsin-based architect is known for using whole, unmilled trees to build beautiful and sustainable homes and buildings. We recently had an opportunity to visit the Angelic Organics Learning Center in northwest Illinois, a small building designed by Gunderson that is made from local trees with an exterior envelope made from straw bale. The structure is designed to achieve maximum solar gain and use as little energy as possible.
We’ve featured Gunderson and Whole Trees Architecture here on Inhabitat before. The innovative firm uses unmilled tree trunks and branches as structural components of buildings, which is much more efficient than conventional building techniques. Because nature is the best engineer of them all, unmilled trees have the ability to support more than 50 percent more weight than the largest piece of lumber milled from the same tree. Keeping the structure of the tree intact retains the continuous fibers of the wood, which are weakened when timber is cut. It’s also much more sustainable, because it enables builders to use upper branches and Y-beams of a tree, instead of just the trunk. The firm uses mostly smaller, local trees, and they tend to favor those that have already fallen instead of cutting down healthy, living trees.
At the Angelic Organics Learning Center, Gunderson and his team used a combination of sustainable building techniques, including passive solar, whole trees, and straw bale construction. The structure is oriented toward the south with a large bank of windows that maximize natural heat and light from the sun in the winter. An eyebrow dormer window was added to the north side of the building to help prevent glare. The exterior envelope of the building is made from straw bale, an energy-efficient and sustainable building material that can be used in almost any climate.
Angelic Organics is one of the largest CSA farms in the country, with more than 1,400 subscribers from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The Learning Center, which is located on the 220-acre farm, hosts educational programs for youth groups and CSA members, and it serves the farm’s many volunteers and donors. The lower level, which includes kitchen facilities, is a workshop area, with several tables for classroom activities. The second floor includes office space and a beautiful balcony that features a bannister made from tree branches. The open balcony layout allows air to circulate between the two levels.
The Angelic Organics Learning Center was completed in 2004, and it’s one of the most impressive Whole Trees structures in the country. In addition to the main structure, the Learning Center features a cob oven and an open-air pavilion, both of which were made using whole trees.