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In 2005, The Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) purchased approximately 4 acres of property for a new branch library to serve the Northeast quadrant of the city of Ann Arbor.
This was to be the third branch library constructed by the current administration since 2002 and replace a 4000 sq.ft. branch library within an existing strip mall located along a nearby commercial corridor.
The site, heavily wooded and densely vegetated, is located on the Southwest corner of the intersection of Huron Parkway and Traverwood Drive.
A thorough site analysis identified edges of the property along the Southwest corner which were scarred and sparsely vegetated, an ideal and well suited location for placement of the building footprint. Further evaluation of on-site circulation brought about considerations to allow parking under the building, reducing the amount of impervious surface on-site and minimizing further site clearing.
During the early stages of the site planning process, we collectively began to discuss and investigate considerations for harvesting wood from the site for re-use in the building. Although densely populated, many of the trees were Ash, suffering the effects of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), a destructive beetle, which aggressively attacks North American Ash trees through feeding on the water and nutrient conducting tissues under the bark, killing the tree over a period of 3 to 5 years. Preliminary research showed that this particular tree species is especially well-suited to milling, as the insect does not damage the interior portion of the wood. With so much value found in a close, abundant, natural resource, unique uses of the wood in the floors, walls, ceiling and structure of the new branch library were proposed and considered. Additionally, grants from the South East Michigan Resource Conservation & Development Council aided in the feasibility of this reutilization.
Lumberjacks with custom ordered Swedish Gransfurs axes in hand, proceeded to manually cut down 60+/- dead ash trees, ranging in diameter from 10” to 22”, in order to harvest the trees as sensitively as possible. This practice avoids unnecessary disturbance to the existing woods and existing ecosystem while minimizing root damage to the existing trees, which typically results from the use of large machinery for such a task. To avoid the inevitable damage caused by large machinery needed to remove the logs from the site, Percherron Draft Horses were used to pull those trees which were cut beyond the limits of construction to a cleared portion of the site.
The utilization of the Ash would become a major component to the design of the library interior. Used in the floors, walls and ceiling as an interior wrapper, the ash wood flows from the main entry floor and walls into a ceiling condition stretching along the entire eastern interior edge of the building and culminating in an Ash wrapped reading rooms whose primary views will be focused westward from where the wood originated. Additionally, large sections of the logs were used as structural columns, accommodating vertical and lateral loading along the large southwest expanse of glass. The bark has been stripped from these log columns exposing the randomized grooves and carvings created by the EAB larvae - creating, what is in essences, a visual and tactile testament to the life and destruction of the Ash tree in Michigan and surrounding area, allowing generations to be exposed to an autopsy report of an extinct species in the region.
-Photography by Justin Maconochie