Sustainability is boring? Not in this treehouse.

Situated in the wilds of West Virginia, The Summit is an adventure center for the millions of youth and adults involved in the Boy Scouts of America. It is set on former strip mining land that was converted into a nature preserve and will permanently host the BSA’s Jamboree gatherings, which are held every four years and bring over 30,000 scouts to the site.

The Boy Scouts of America / Trinity Works commissioned Volume Inc. to design an exhibition program that tells a sustainability story through the actual Sustainability Treehouse. Designed by Mithun, the Net Zero structure meets the standards of the Living Building Challenge: all its power comes from the sun and the wind, all the necessary water is rain-captured, and all its waste is recycled and reused.

The main challenge was to create an experience that would engage Boy Scouts eager to find the next adventure activity—zip lines, climbing areas, a skate park—and leave them with a new perspective on sustainability. The design avoids outdated and formulaic exhibit solutions and instead delivers information in surprising and unexpected ways, down to the humorous and slightly irreverent tone of the exhibit text.

Mysterious trail signs appear on the way to the building. These read: Who Knew / A Tree / Could Be / So Waste Free?

A “Rain Chain,” made of stainless steel camping cups that transfer rainwater falling from the roof into a cistern below. The cistern then cleans and purifies the water for the drinking fountain adjacent to a LED message board that displays how much has been collected and consumed.

A complete tree (with root ball, even!) that is suspended horizontally in the first floor space, which (through a variety of specimens, videos and other content) illustrates its own self-sufficiency in nature and also provides the model for how the building works.

Humorous short videos and lively, cheeky panel text keep even the most disinterested Scout engaged.
Volume also conceived and produced a three monitor “Moonrise Kingdom”-meets-”An Inconvenient Truth” short film that highlights the sustainability features of the treehouse (video below).

The “Recyclotron,” a Rube Goldberg-esque rolling ball machine encased in a wood slat “mini-house” structure. Visitors can power the machine, most memorably by pedaling a custom-designed tricycle that both lifts the balls to the top of the track and shows the effort needed to power an incandescent bulb versus a fluorescent one.


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The treehouse roof showcases the wind-generated power with an accompanying LED feed that reframes the energy savings into more understandable terms, i.e. “This building just made 1512 delicious slices of toast!” Scouts can also contribute their own pledge to be more sustainable by etching it into a metal dog tag and attaching it to the series of vertical wires.

  • AIGA (Re)Design Awards overall winner
  • AIGA Justified Awards
  • Communication Arts Design Awards
  • Core 77 Interiors and Environments overall winner
  • IDSA Environments Gold Award
  • Print Regional Design Awards
  • SEGD Honor Award
  • Spark! Awards

Change is particular and local. Change is a listening exercise, not a messaging one. Change sticks around after the photographer leaves and the design awards are old news. Volume really understood this directive and their work ensured the long-lasting effects the Boy Scouts organization envisioned for this project.

Allison Schapker, Trinity Works / BSA