Located at the end of a recently-completed trail through a ponderosa pine forest in rural Troy, Idaho, the Neuman Forest Environmental Learning Pavilions act as a lens for direct engagement with this unique landscape. They provide multiple educational spaces (the site is walkable from the local K-12 school), as well as a refuge for community members and visitors alike to engage with the surrounding woods.
Students working as a part of Idaho Design Build collaborated with numerous stakeholders that impacted the resulting project. These included the land owner, the Palouse Land Trust (who oversee the conservation easement on the site), educators from Troy schools, a Structural Engineer and Professor Emeritus of Renewable Materials, a local lumber mill, city and county officials, material and financial donors, forestry conservation experts, multiple community organizations, and the composite materials lab at a neighboring university. Having so many partners imbued the educational experience with a richness of perspectives and expertise. This integrated approach transformed an initial desire for a simple shelter in the woods, into a more meaningful resolution of community needs, ranging from conservation to education to recreation.
Three distinct, connected, Pavilions are sited in series along a ridgeline defining the site's primary axis. A desire for continual connection to the site, combined with strict requirements of the conservation easement, led to a design made of permeable timber screen walls, focused openings, limited enclosure, and minimal footprint. Each zone of the Pavilions is specifically tuned to the needs and opportunities of its micro-context. Programmatic needs are paired with specific elements of the surrounding forest (understory, canopy, meadow, etc), This approach ensured the surrounding forest remained integral to the user experience.
Working in a conservation easement brought an acute awareness of material and resource efficiency to the project. The Pavilions implemented multiple strategies for circular construction, alternative sourcing, optimization, re-use, and minimum-impact construction. This project is the latest in an ongoing tradition of Idaho Design Build, to innovate and discover new ways of working with simple materials such as dimension lumber. This focus serves to advance student, client, and visitor understanding of these materials and their powerful resilience, while also lowering the costs of projects and allowing us to take on smaller opportunities to serve our community and region. All structural elements of the Pavilions are built of dimensional lumber, and the brise soleil cladding was designed and predominantly built from offcuts of those same structural members, all sourced from a mill within ten minutes of the site. The modular cladding and structure can be easily removed and replaced as the needs of the building progress throughout its lifespan, allowing for inexpensive and reuse-centered repairs, modifications, and eventual demolition.
Idaho Design Build is an outreach studio course within the Architecture Program at the University of Idaho. The students in the class are committed to helping local organizations, institutions, and businesses with unique architectural projects which wouldn't be feasible for larger firms to take on due to strict budgetary and time constraints. Students collaborate with these partners to provide on sponsored research, design, and construction. The studio works to provide creative and cost-effective solutions for the betterment of our community. The Neuman Forest Environmental Learning Pavilions' client group, the Palouse Land Trust, is a non-profit organization founded in 1995, which works with private landowners to establish and maintain conservation easements in the Palouse region of northern Idaho and eastern Washington.
Recent devastating forest fires across the western US and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational environments have brought about an acute need for healthy outdoor learning spaces, as well as a renewed appreciation for the conservation and maintenance of forest ecologies. In that spirit, a conversation began between IDB and the Palouse Land Trust executive director Lovina Englund about the potential to create a community gathering and educational space near an old alpaca barn within the Neuman Conservation Forest easement. This easement is located in Troy, a town of less than one thousand residents a few miles east of IDB's studio in Moscow, Idaho. After several subsequent meetings and site visits with PLT Community Conservation Coordinator Marcel Robicheaux, educators from Troy Schools, and other community partners, a general project scope including meeting space, a restroom, public gathering areas, and a science lab was agreed upon.
The Idaho Design Build student team made multiple visits to the site, met with the land owner, Palouse Land Trust staff, and many of these community stakeholders at the inception of the project. These meetings further defined the project's goals and performance criteria, and helped to narrow the focus of the subsequent design work. As the project developed, students presented the work to these same individuals, community and governmental organizations, as well as a partnering engineer. This engagement continued through construction, with students conducting impromptu hardhat tours of the project to community members on the trail.
The site features a sunny ridgeline between denser forest to the east, and a meadow that once grazed alpacas to the west. This area is rich with animal life; deer, moose, bats, and arthropod species frequent the site and were common visitors during construction. Prior to work, the site also featured 100% coverage by wild-growing native plants, in the shadow of the encompassing Ponderosa pine forest, and only 12% of the completed Pavilions' footprint is covered at grade with hardscape (8x16 pavers). Several months after completion of construction, the area surrounding the structures has largely returned to its pre-development state, and animals are beginning to re-inhabit it more permanently.
Designing a responsive building under such tight budget, environmental, and time concerns presented a challenge for IDB students, but it was one they were excited to address. From the outset, the focus on the project was providing a space from which to experience the surrounding natural landscape, rather than an element intended to stand out from it. Because of this -and easement regulations- a language of limited enclosure, permeable screens, and open roof was used for the majority of the Pavilions, excluding secure areas such as the restroom and lab storage.
The Pavilions were set in the form of a two wedges with wide ends facing east and west along the existing site axis of the ridgeline, to provide maximum outward focus. Each programmatic element was then placed along the wedges according to necessary square footage (single-user restroom towards the narrow center, group seating towards the wider east edge, etc.) as well as a student-developed map of favorable and unfavorable views perpendicular to the main axis. This map also informed the placement of cuts through the overall wedge for doors, windows, and viewing decks.
The project is entirely centered around educating the community about forest ecology and wider sustainability. The Pavilions accomplish this through formal (programming) and informal (design strategy) means. Some of these informal educational strategies include innovative, optimized use of renewable, locally sourced natural materials, lack of powered lighting to limit sky pollution, permeable cladding, and spaces designed to focus views into the forest. In these ways, the Pavilions act as a lens, maintaining a connection to the unique natural space that they inhabit. Given their position as a community and educational amenity, these qualities are well-positioned to help inspire visitors towards ecological awareness for decades to come.
The project features a metal roof salvaged and repurposed from a derelict barn located on the edge of the site and slated for demolition. The individual panels were aligned to allow for reuse of pre-existing fastener holes on the need building.
Due to the minimal operational/ upkeep costs, and a modular prefabricated design, the pavilions have a protracted expected lifecycle. The component elements are easily an inexpensively replaceable as needed to keep the pavilions functional.
Idaho Forest Stewards and Idaho Firewise are active users of the site as an educational tool and case study in healthy, resilient forest management and conservation. The Pavilions are designed as a model for fire resilience. Idaho Design Build worked in close consultation with Idaho Firewise to determine necessary setbacks on the project and a maintenance plan for the surrounding landscape. In this way, the pavilions strike a balance between a sense of immersion within the forest, and safe construction that is considerate of best practices for building in a fire-prone environment.
The Pavilions feature a composting toilet that requires no water, and a solar-powered pump system to feed a faucet from a small cistern contained within the structure, which can in turn be hose-filled from existing site infrastructure. The sink bowl is a removable basin that can be manually emptied anywhere on site or taken off site for disposal, removing the risk of overwatering or pollution at a single outflow point. The structure of the Pavilions themselves does not retain or redirect water, instead allowing it to permeate through open decks and the soft-scape of the pre-existing forest floor. Roofs were limited to areas where they were absolutely necessary for functionality, made of inert materials, and drain locally.
The project's budget was a major limiting factor in design, however it also led to unexpected opportunities for innovation. Material waste was particularly minimized to avoid expensive lumber costs, with structural off-cuts being saved and reused in a brise soleil cladding, for furniture construction, and as blocking. Idaho Design Build worked with local lumber mills to find cost-effective alternative channels for the processing and procurement of materials that would otherwise have been outside of the project's budget. The Design Build model allows for efficiencies in cost estimation and in-depth budgeting that are responsive in real time to the design as it develops. The studio aided in financing the Pavilions by attending community meetings alongside the Land Trust, directly sharing the project with community groups who could both contribute to and benefit from the construction. The modular, prefabricated structural components also reduce long-term costs by making maintenance much easier to conduct.
Now open to the public, the Pavilions offer on-site meeting space for groups like the Idaho Forest Stewards, immersive educational opportunities for the children of Troy Schools, and a quiet space to pause and reflect on this unique, preserved landscape. The Pavilions are a key element in landowner Judy Lalonde's vision of the forest and trail system as a publicly accessible community asset. They also demonstrate an architecture in keeping with the PLT's vision for places where the community intertwines with the natural world, one complimenting the other. Through responsive, resilient, and precise design, the students of Idaho Design Build have also ensured that the Pavilions can remain as a functional and enjoyable amenity for years to come.