Aldo Leopold Legacy Center – The ‘Greenest Building in the US’

One of the fieldtrips we took during the US-IALE conference in Madison was to Aldo Leopold’s shack and the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center. Aldo Leopold is considered by many to be the ‘father’ of wildlife management. His significant and lasting mark is his book, A Sand County Almanac. I’ll look at the book in later post, but here I’ll talk briefly about what we saw on our excursion from Madison.

After graduating from the Yale Forest School in 1909, Aldo Leopold spent time working in Arizona and New Mexico before moving to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1924. In 1933 he published the first wildlife management textbook and accepted a new chair in game management at the University of Wisconsin – a first for both the university and the nation.

In 1935, Leopold and his family initiated their own ecological restoration experiment on a washed-out sand farm of 120 acres along the Wisconsin River near Baraboo, Wisconsin. Planting thousands of pine trees, restoring prairies, and documenting the ensuing changes in the flora and fauna informed and inspired Leopold. Many of his writings in the initial parts of A Sand County Almanac – the history of the local region as told through the rings of an oak tree, evening shows of sky dancing woodcock, fishing the Alder Fork, hunting ruffled-grouse in smoky gold tamarack – were penned in ‘the shack’ (above) on his farm which we stopped by at on a wet, grey day after visiting The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center (below).

In sharp contrast to ‘the shack’ the Legacy Center feels solid and dry. But consistent with the Land Ethic message of the writing that was done in the old dilapidated building, the new building ‘sustains the health, wildness, and productivity of the land, locally and globally‘. The Legacy Center has received Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and is currently the ‘greenest building in the U.S.’.

The Legacy Center is an example of how we can use energy more efficiently and construct building with a limited impact on our environment. Through energy efficiency, renewable energy, the Legacy Center is the first carbon neutral building certified by LEED — annual operations account for no net gain in carbon dioxide emissions.

The Legacy Center is also a net zero energy building, using 70 percent less energy than a building built just to code and meeting all of its energy needs on site using tools like a roof-mounted solar array and a ‘thermal flux zone’ to reduce heat flow between interior rooms and the outdoors. Many of the structural columns, beams, and trusses, as well as interior panelling and finish work, are from the pine trees Leopold planted himself on his farm between 1935-1948.

This really is a building that embodies Leopold’s Land Ethic – both conceptually through the principles used when designing the building, and physically by using material from Leopold’s own ecological restoration experiment. The Legacy Center contains the offices of the Leopold Foundation, has a small shop and ‘museum’ about Leopold, and can be hired for meetings. The building itself is what is really the attraction – and hopeully there will be more like this appearing more frequently elsewhere. Unless you’re passing by or really want to make a pilgrimage to gain an insight into the area where Leopold’s vision unfolded, there’s really no need to go out of your way to visit. Take a virtual tour instead to save energy and carbon and make the building even greener.

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