The Boy Scouts of America are becoming more progressive every day. Next year the organization will introduce a brand-new Sustainability merit badge alongside the Environmental Science badge from 1972. And now, scouts can visit a giant treehouse designed to school them on sustainability using fun installations, from Rube Goldberg-esque recycling machines to light bulb-powering tricycles.
The Sustainability Treehouse is located at The Summit, the Boy Scouts' new national adventure center which hosts tens of thousands of scouts per year in the mountains of West Virginia. Since the camp is located on former strip mining land that was converted into a nature preserve, a structure was needed to both teach scouts about the site and give them a new perspective (sometimes quite literally) on sustainability. Seattle architecture firm Mithun and San Francisco graphic design firm Volume with Studio Terpeluk collaborated on the Corten steel frame structure that makes the scouts part of the story as they climb up through the forest's canopy.
The biggest obstacle for the Sustainability Treehouse was that it had to compete with other offerings way more exciting for a 12-year-old boy: zip lines, climbing walls and a skate park. "The main challenge was to create an experience that would engage Boy Scouts eager to find the next adventure activity," says Volume principal Adam Brodsley.
The key was using the verticality and unique design of the structure itself to illustrate many of the natural processes. The scale helps quite a bit: Just climbing to the top rewards with dizzyingly spectacular views and teaches plenty about energy expenditure. Brodsley also points to a full-size tree—complete with root ball—that's suspended in the treehouse to help illustrate how the building works.
The designers also aspired to make the lessons more interactive than the typical educational center. Most notable is the “Rain Chain,” made of stainless steel camping cups, which transfers rainwater falling onto the roof into a cistern below. The cistern cleans and purifies the water then pumps it into a drinking fountain equipped with an LED message board that displays how much has been collected and consumed.
Sipping rainwater so entertainingly captured and displayed is probably going to give your average scout a radically different outlook on water conservation in his everyday life. The hope is that the Treehouse's dramatic setting and experiential learning instills values that will stick with the scouts long after they've left. [Photos by Joe Fletcher]