Children's Cottage Archives
Our Artists Extraordinaire Visit the Farm Center (7/21/06)
The visit to the farm was interesting. We really enjoyed seeing all the baby animals. The little piglets were SO cute! It was fun just going and walking around. Kids of all ages would probably be attracted to the natural life. :-) --Clare and Caroline
I loved the farm! It was so much fun to see all the animals up close, and to be able to pet them. I thought that the chicks were very cute because they just tumbled over each other! I think that it is a great opportunity for kids to go and interact with animals a little bit, and they might even be inspired to try new things, like horseback riding. I can't wait to visit the farm again!
Volunteer Profiles-Meet Mark and Becky! (07/21/06)
Today we arrived at the site to find two new faces-Mark and Becky! The two are spending their summer travelling around the US in their Volkswagon bus and volunteering at various farms through the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) organization. Both Becky and Mark are from Virginia and attended Virginia Tech. Becky studied engineering but is exploring opportunities outside of the office and Mark studied liberal arts but is searching for a school with a larger program. They found out about WWOOF through friends and have so far travelled to New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Michigan. They have worked on the site scrubbing fieldstones which will cover the base of the cottage. We look forward to working more with Mark and Becky and wish them an exciting, educational rest of their summer.
Playing Stump the Green Bloggers (07/21/06)
If you have questions about anything having to do with the cottage, this blog's for you. You just click on the little blue "edit" to the right and type in your question and then press the save button at the bottom of your screen. Its easier than writing an email...no email addresses! We'll then give the question to a green blogger to come up with an answer and they'll type it in so everyone can see the answer. Ok are you ready to play Stump the Green Bloggers? Read our example question and answer below. You see anybody can play.
Question: When playing Stump the Green Bloggers what do you do with the stumps?
Answer: Why we recycle 'em!
Put your questions here:
Question: I was at Kensington today admiring your handy work! Where did you acquire the timber for the project?? As it looked like recently milled timber.
Answer: Thanks for the great question. The timber came from ash trees in the park that had succumbed to the emerald ash borer. The park had cut them down and the trunks were piled up in a remote part of the park. John Haling came with his portable sawmill and cut them into timbers. For more details, see Cutting Timbers with John Haling (07/14/06), below. John is available for hire to do the same for anyone with large trees that have died. Give him a call if you have a need.
Our Cottage Reaching for the Sky (7/20/06)
As you approach the site you can now hear the sound of the pounding of hammers and the whirring of saws in the distance and you now see the outline of the cottage sillouetted against the stand of deep green oak trees behind it. You remember those timbers that John Haling cut from dead trees a couple days ago? Well they have now been turned into beautiful framing for the cottage by a crew of carpenters led by Doug, Bob and Mike. There were two volunteers from the UAW/Ford Motor Company that provided great help. Deanne was there, as well as volunteers from the Great Lakes Green Initiative. Its amazing to see this beautiful strong wood creating the backbone of this cottage and to think that, till this point, the only future we could imagine for this wood is firewood. What a transformation of thinking. Thanks Bob for imagining and John for the skill to make it happen.
Click on pictures to see larger image.
A Child's Dream (07/20/06)
Walking up to the Children's Cottage brought back many memories of my childhood. A trip to Kensington Metropark was an adored adventure for my brother and I when we were young, and I hadn't been back in years.The cottage is nestled between the Farm Center and Kent Lake, both places frequented by families, making this a prime place to erect the Children's Cottage. The framework has begun as of the 19th. The construction is well underway with a dedicated building group that is really going to enhance a child's experience at Kensington.
The work done by the selfless staff will all be worth dealing with unstable Michigan weather and all of the small trials that come along with this kind of project when children take a step into the door. It is likely that many of them will have been in similar learning centers, but quite doubtful that they will have known anything about natural building. To be able to reach them at such a young age to show the importance of natural building will be inspiring to young and old alike.
The Kensington park director has been continuously impressed with the building of this cottage and hopes to use this type of technique in more buildings around the park. "Just tell us when," Bob responded.
A Vision in Green (07/19/06)
Also thanks to Lizzie for the cottage picture at the top of the blog. We hope kids like the cottage as much as the two in your picture do.
So What's the Big Deal about Natural Building Anyway? (07/19/06)
The Kensington Children's Cottage and Classroom is, as we've learned, probably the first public building in Michigan to use primarily natural building techniques in its construction. All of us at GLGI have really enjoyed learning about natural building since, before this project started, few of us had any idea what it really meant! Through conversations with Mike Neumann, Deanne Bednar and Bob Prudhomme we've begun to understand what natural building is all about, how it differs from conventional construction, and why it's important.
Natural building means using materials that are readily available locally (or even on-site), highly renewable and non-toxic, with the goal of having as little impact on the environment as possible. Some of the techniques being incorporated into the Children's Cottage construction are strawbales, compressed earth block (CEB), fieldstones, natural plaster and thatched roofing. The strawbales and CEB's will be used to build the cottage walls, reducing the need for lumber for framing. This saves money and, more importantly, trees! Bob explained to us that the average American colonial (2500 sq.ft.) requires between 5 to 6 acres of trees just to frame the house. A comparably sized house using CEB's would require only a small fraction of that. The CEB's are made by compressing sand and clay (dug up on site - it's free!), along with some kind of stabilizing agent, into large bricks that are used to build walls. The CEB's provide good insulation against temperature extremes.
The thatch for the cottage roof will be made from a tall, invasive reed plant called phragmite, that grows abundantly in ditches and wetlands around Kensington as well as the rest of Michigan (also free!). During the winter, when the reeds are brown and the leaves have fallen off, the phragmite is harvested and can then be put into bundles for the thatched roof.
Another focus of natural building is to use materials that are recycled or salvaged. At the Children's Cottage, they have been able to collect timber from dead ash trees that were killed due to the emerald ash borer infestation (free wood - no visiting Home Depot for this!), and cut the logs into lumber to be used in construction (see "Cutting Timbers" article below.)
Mike explained to us that natural building is really popular in the southwest US, especially the use of CEB's (also, think adobe). He is hoping to bring some of these techniques to Michigan, perhaps even to work on a Habitat for Humanity house. We wondered if the temperature extremes of our northern climate would be too much for some of these building materials, but Bob and Mike have assured us that they have taken this into consideration in their design and that the structure should be able to tolerate our really hot/really cold Michigan weather!
So, to recap, here's why natural building is important:
- Uses highly-renewable resources
- Uses resources found either on-site or locally, saving the cost and energy of transportation
- Often uses materials that can be collected for free
- Uses non-toxic materials that are safer for people and the environment
- Often uses recycled or salvaged materials
- Structures are often community-built, so this process brings people together!
- Offers a more affordable alternative for housing
Audio Podcast >>> Michael Neumann Shares his Thoughts on Natural Building (13.5 mins)
Click here to read more about natural building: Natural Building, from Wikipedia
It All Begins with a Good Foundation - Part II - The Pour - (07/14/06)
Later in the day, the concrete truck came and began to pour the concrete into the form. There were concrete finishers there to smooth it out. At the last minute Bob Prudhomme got the inspiration to draw a pattern in the concrete that made it look a bit like a slate floor. You can see the last picture that shows what this looked like after it hardened. Great idea Bob!
Click on pictures to see larger image.
Cutting Timbers with John Haling (07/14/06)
Kensington had a big pile of large logs in the back acres of the park that were waiting to be chipped up or cut up into fire wood. Most of these are from ash trees that were killed by the emerald ash borer infestation and had to be cut down. (note: Michigan has lost 6 - 7 million trees so far.) But with natural building there are whole new opportunities for this wood. You just need a talented wood cutter like John Haling. He can turn most any large log into the wood that you need for building, in this case the wood needed for the Children's Cottage.
We had a chance to hear all about John's great work in saving trees from the waste piles. We also learned about how he transforms this pile of scrap wood into a pile of timber ready to be used in a building. He received a 'cut list' from Bob Prudhomme, detailing the various sizes of wood he needed to cut, and he began with the longest cuts first. John demonstrated the use of the handsaw mill and described the process of log rolling. Click on the link below to listen:
Audio Podcast >>>Interview of John Haling about Cutting Timber
John and Chris Williams talk about why it is important to reuse this great wood. They emphasize that this is wood that would be used for fireplaces or mulch if not for this project. In fact, John says that there is probably enough wood on the Kensington property to build for the next 10 years!
It All Begins with a Good Foundation - Part I - The Form - (07/12/06)
While the foundation of the cottage may not natural it is a very "green" design. When Kensington indicated that there may be up to a one-half million visitors to the cottage per year and they may want to heat it so they can use it year round it really put some steep requirements on the flooring and foundation of the cottage. So Bob Prudhomme, being the green architect that he is, looked carefully at how these demanding requirements could be met in building and more importantly in maintaining the cottage over many decades. So he decided on a concrete floor with an integrated foundation that is specially designed to save approimately 50% of the concrete over a traditional foundation. For the heating requirement Bob chose a very efficient and comfortable in-floor radiant heating system which heats the floor with hot water running through tubes that run throughout the concrete floor. He also used styrofoam board as the form for the concrete which stays in place as an insulation barrier. You can see all this in the pictures below.
If you want to hear our interview with Bob Prudhomme on the foundation design just click on the link. You'll hear him as he is actually working on the foundation forms. What a world class multi-tasker!
Click on pictures to see larger image.
Aren't they Cute! (07/12/06)
The Farm Center at Kensington is a great place for kids and adults alike! When we visited we saw whole families of baby piglets, a new colt, a baby calf, and chicks. There are picnic areas and gardens and there's always something new to learn. For instance, did you know in many cases calves are taken away from their mothers not long after birth and hand-fed so that the farmer can continue to milk the mother daily, keeping her milk production up? Kensington offers farm camps and activities throughout the year. It's a great place for kids to learn about animals and life on a farm. These are pictures of some of the baby animals at the farm. The new colt has been attracting lots of visitors because of local newspaper reports of its birth.
Click on pictures to see larger image.
Talk'n with Farmer Chris (07/12/06)Tom, Martha and Caitlin had the opportunity to visit the cottage site July 12, 2006, and met with Chris Williams, the Farm Center Interpreter. Chris works at the Kensington Farm Center as an Animal Health Care Specialist and also helps to run the center. He has a building background and has not only helped build some of the small structures around the Farm Center but also had a hand in the raising of the horse barn. He also converted a one-room schoolhouse into his home.
This is his first natural building project, but Chris is really enthusiatic about the cottage construction. With his background as a naturalist and his interest in architectural styles and barn history, Chris believes the cottage will be an "interpretive tool," something not only to learn in, but to learn from.
The site of the cottage was chosen so that it will have room to grow. It is far enough away from the farm center that it will be a destination in itself and not a building which visitors will "blow through", as Chris put it. Possible Phase II plans for the setting around the cottage include a sorghum grass maze, a pumpkin patch, a vegetable garden, bean pole tepees, animal pens and fences built out of stone, boards, and wattle and daub, old-fashioned gates and entryways, and a water pump. Chris thinks the "quaintness and scale of the cottage would be very inviting for the kids." He hopes the cottage will be a fun and educational meeting place for the 430,000+ visitors who come to the farm center each year.
Audio Podcast >>> Interview with Chris Williams of Kensington Metro Park
Chatting with the Green Architect (06/30/06)
We were all gathered in Martha Peterson's living room when in came Bob Prudhomme, the green architect from Ferndale. Mr. Prudhomme sat down and gathered us all around and rolled out the plans for the Kensington Children's Cottage and explained this very unique building and his design. We quickly learned that these plans were for one of the first and largest public natural buildings in Michigan. Also, there will be potentially one-half a million people per year visiting the the cottage to learn about the natural building techniques used to construct it.
He said that while this was the first time he did plans for a natural building, he has done many "green" designs before. He did The Green House in Birmingham, Michigan. He said it was important that any building fit naturally into its setting. You can see that the children cottage design includes some field stones on the front...this is because many of the buildings at the Kensington Farm include field stones...and they are, of course, natural. Mr. Prudhomme indicated that the original idea was a small cottage, but Kensington management wanted it to be larger so they could use it as a classroom. Once this was decided it really made the building a public space and the plans needed to be more detailed and they had to be approved by the township.
We all learned that one of the main purposes of the building design was to show as many different natural building techniques as possible without making the building too difficult to construct and maintain. Some of these techniques include:
- Strawbale Walls
- Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Walls and Seats
- Thatched Roof
- Rough Sawn Timbers
- Field Stone Exterior Wall
- Natural Plasters for Coating the Walls
The idea of natural building is that as many of the materials for the building come right from the area surrounding the building site. The clay and sand for the compressed earth block come right from the ground around the cottage. The phragmite, for the thatched roof, will come from wetlands at Kensington. And the fieldstones themselves were found on the Kensington property. The wood timbers for the frame of the cottage will come from ash trees that were killed by the emerald ash borer. These trees then live on at the park...instead of being ground up to wood chips. Mr. Prudhomme invited us to come see these trees be cut in July.
While as much of the cottage as possible is natural, sometimes the requirements make it necessary to use "non-natural" materials. For example, a concrete floor had to be used to accomodate the potentially large number of visitors to the cottage, since there is not a natural material that can withstand such a high volume of traffic. However, even in this case, Bob said you try to minimize the amount of "non-natural" material you use. Bob was able to come up with a design for the foundation that dramatically reduced the amount of concrete that had to be used.
Here are some of the really cool parts of Mr. Prudhomme's design. Theres a lot of detail in the plans, so we picked out a few things that we thought you'd be interested in. Ever wondered how to make a thatch roof? Well, wonder no longer. You can click on them to make them bigger.
Click on pictures to see larger image.
We were all very impressed by the passion Mr. Prudhomme has not only for natural building, but for caring for the earth in everything we do. All of the ideas he put into the cottage design were amazing. We appreciated his coming to the meeting and sharing his design for the cottage with us.
You couldn't make Mr. Prudhomme's presentation? Don't worry. It's available by just clicking on the links below. You'll enjoy hearing right from Mr. Prudhomme himself and you can enjoy his gentlemanly southern drawl.
Audio Podcast >>> Bob Prudhomme Architecting Naturally - Part 1
Audio Podcast >>> Bob Prudhomme Architecting Naturally - Part 2