HMFH Architects

Heavy Timber Structure On the Rise at Bristol Aggie

The close ties between the Bristol County Agricultural High School and the natural landscape are evident the moment you arrive on campus, from the Environmental Resource students raising local, endangered turtles and rabbits, to the stewardship the students provide for the school’s significant arboretum, to the campus site itself—an historic and active farm site bordered by the winding Taunton River. And now as the campus expansion is underway, large structural heavy timber is giving shape to the new Student Commons—highlighting the importance of this natural building material and demonstrating the role timber can play in mitigating the effects of climate change though carbon sequestration.

During the design process, we worked with a group of students in a charette focused on the important attributes of their campus and their new Student Commons. Discussions highlighted the school’s curricular emphasis on science, connections to the outdoors and hands-on learning. Students were very clear in describing how their work, socializing and future are all connected to nature and stated their need for a campus and buildings that reflected that.

Our design response elevates their commitment to environmental stewardship by incorporating sustainable design elements in each building – from the composting toilets and green roofs in the new Center for Science and the Environment to the net zero energy dairy barn. Both to reflect the context of the school’s campus and because of the beneficial environmental attributes, we selected timber for use in the Landscape Arbor building, Dairy Barn and the Student Commons. Construction of the Commons, which will be the campus center for gathering and dining, is now underway!

The student common’s structural glue laminated timber columns and beams will be exposed, connecting students to the local ecosystem and serving as a teaching tool. Buildings take enormous amounts of energy to create, but a growing awareness of heavy timber is allowing a new era of low-carbon, high-performance buildings to take shape. Forests serve as a natural carbon sink, offsetting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When wood is harvested from sustainably managed forests, the carbon that the trees have absorbed during its growth remains in the wood structure for the life of the building.

The Student Commons will not only play a prominent role in student life, it will also house many public and community activities as well. The wood construction will make evident to all not only Bristol Aggie’s nature focused culture and curriculum but also that carbon-intensive materials can be replaced, even in a public school environment, with more sustainable, healthy, low-carbon alternatives.